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Friday, December 14, 2007

A Moment's Joy (An E-Letter to My Congregation)

Today I did not have a lunch appointment with anyone, so I walked over to Cincy’s for a quick lunch of chili salad. I took my sermon materials and enjoyed the quiet and the time to read and ponder the passage from Sunday. I thought a lot about Mary “treasuring up in her heart” the things she had heard. I’ll have more to say about that Sunday.

This has not been a “fun” week. I am trying very hard to get my office life in order, which has meant hours and hours of very detailed data work and such. I’ve enjoyed my times of fellowship over lunch this week with some of you, and my time alone today.

It’s kind of nippy outside today. I had been listening to my iPod the last ten minutes or so at Cincy’s, and on the way back I decided to play a Lucinda Williams song called “Blue” as I waked back to the office. Heather had mentioned the day before listening to this song on her birthday iPod while studying at the UNC library. Heather and I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Lucinda play this live back in September at the Carolina Theatre (see review).

Anyway, so I was walking south on South Elm, on the east side of the street, approaching my building, the Guilford Building. When I got to the corner of Washington and Elm, the sun, already sinking into the southwest sky, was beaming directly down on that corner and on the building behind me – the one with all the Virginia Creeper growing up the south side, where the frame store is. I stopped. I stood. I kept standing there for maybe ten minutes soaking up the sun and the view and the music. I was thinking, “This is my little corner of the world, where I work and live.” The view down South Elm, and especially down both sides of the opposite corner of S Elm and Washington, was really lovely. The sun was warm on my face. It felt really great. At Cincy’s I had been pondering the works of God that Mary had treasured in her heart. Now I was treasuring many things in quick succession. I heard a train even over my iPod music and was able to look to my left several blocks to see the train cross over Washington Street going south and bending west around and behind The Depot, and then see it cross S. Elm two blocks down. That was cool.

Often when I listen to music I “translate.” Between the music itself that I was listening to, and the words “as translated” into my world view, I was just feeling an upwelling of joy. You wouldn’t think a song entitled “Blue” would do that, or the other Lucinda song I listened to (“Ventura”), or even the other song I sang to myself after I turned off the iPod - John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

Here is the chorus to “Blue”:

Blue is the color of night
When the red sun
Disappears from the sky
Raven feathers shiny and black
A touch of blue glistening down her back

The melody is so beautiful, and the imagery so vivid, pointing me to the beauty of God’s creation, and even on a downtown street corner there was enough of that to notice and be thankful for.

Here is the chorus to “Ventura”:

I wanna watch the ocean bend,
The edges of the sun in
I wanna get swallowed up
In an ocean of love.

I felt that way in that moment – swallowed up in the ocean of God’s love, with sun beaming down not upon an ocean but a city block.

And of course, here is the famous line from John Denver, which I was feeling pretty intensely myself:

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

And that’s how I felt standing there at the corner of South Elm and Washington, happy, joyful, blessed, swallowed up in God’s love, attentive to His presence and Lordship even over that one little corner of one little ordinary town.

You just never know how God will bless you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Photo of the Day - November 27, 2007 - Alleyway Mural, S. Elm


One of the many pleasures of hanging around downtown are the many and various murals. Hope to document them all eventually.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Photo of the Day - November 26, 2007 - Poor Little Butterfly

See my other pictures on Flickr here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Photo of the Day - November 21, 2007 - Downtown

The JP Building reflected off First Citizens. I like the abstract effect.

View my Flickr photostream here.

By Design, Not Default

My good friend Mack Arrington has started a new blog called By Design, Not Default. Check it out. He is new to Blogger and to blogging.

Strange Goings On

Odd things are happening at our house as we approach the holidays.

Monday, November 12, 2007

photo of the Day - November 12, 2007 - Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy, late March 1978. The most wonderful, beautiful, fascinating, romantic, historic, interesting bridge I have ever seen or walked upon. I LOVED Florence! See some more pictures of Europe here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ohoto of the Day - November 10, 2007 - Blood Orange

This picture was taken while sitting atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa in late March, 1978. My fondest memory of that time was singing our own version of "Favorite Things," being able to laugh at our many travel woes, and remember the good times.

Check Out my Flickr Photostream here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Photo of the Day - November 9, 2007 - Anna Running

This was taken at the very beginning of the 4A regional Cross Country meet at Tanglewood on October 28. This was first attempt at a pan type shot with my new camera lens. Northwest girls won the meet. The girl in blue went on to win State the next week. She is an amazing athlete. But in the regionals she came in second to another runner. Anna came in fifth.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Photo of the Day - November 8, 2007 - Pooped

In May 1976 Bill, Beau, David, and I set out on what would be a 600 mile bike ride around the state of South Carolina, starting from Clemson where we all attended school. This picture was taken on the second day, on the ride from Ninety Six SC to Columbia SC. There were a lot of hills between Ninety Six and Batesburg where this photo was taken, and we were pooped! Our travels took us from Clemson through Anderson to Ninety Six, from Ninety Six to Columbia, from Columbia to John's Island, then a day riding around the Charleston area (and over and back on the old Cooper River Bridge - in traffic!), then from John's Island to Beaufort (pronounced Byoofirt, the "beau" as in "beautiful")), from Beaufort to Hilton Head, from Hilton Head to Savannah, and then from Savannah back up to Columbia. On the ride back to Columbia we wimped out and hitched a ride in a pick up for about half the 130 mile distance! Sissies.

Check out my Flickr photostream here.

I Agree With Obama

I think Obama is right.

Prayer for the City

Last night in a prayer group that I am a part of we spent a fair bit of time in prayer for the new city council and mayor. (I joked before we prayed that only one person I voted for actually won!) Anyway we prayed in particular for Mayor Yvonne Johnson, that she would be an instrument of unity and peace for the council and for the city. We prayed that despite party affiliations or philosophical differences about government that the new council would unite around the key matters that face our city, and that God would lead the council to know and agree upon what those most important issues were. We prayed for God's hand of protection against the ever present temptations that come with power. We prayed for a new spirit of cooperation and openness between the council and the press and the citizenry in general. We prayed for a new era of humble mutually deferential servant leadership. We prayed for the walls of division that plague our city to be torn down. We prayed for the good of the city.

On a personal note, politically speaking, if we were to sit and compare notes, I would imagine that I am more of a social and fiscal conservative than Yvonne Johnson. Like, duh. I have never met her, but through seeing her and reading about her through the various media I have always liked her. I hope and pray that her own expressed goals of developing consensus around key issues will come to fruition. I think she is a good person for the job (even though I voted for Billy - here's to ya big guy!) and I have high hopes for a new period of life in a new city council.

Almost Heaven, Downtown Greensb'ro

OK, I am more or less settled in to my new office, and I have to make a public confession - I LOVE IT DOWNTOWN!

I have lived here in Greensboro for 18 years and frankly it has never felt like home for me. It's my kids' home, but not mine. I live here, I want the good of this city, but it's not MY city.

Every time I hear the train whistle as it crosses S. Elm (and what's with that little spur up to the New and Record - that's kind of cute. I can see that train right out my window. The other I have to open the fire escape door to see)., every time I look out my window at the cranes over the Old Wachovia Building, and every time I go out the front door onto the street, well, it feels like home. For the first time really. And that's kind of cool. I hope soon to stat posting pictures of downtown. And maybe David Wharton could give me an architectural tour!

I would move down here in a New York minute.

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city,
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there...
You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares, and go
Downtown -- things will be great when you're
Downtown -- you'll find a place for sure
Downtown -- everything's waiting for you

Tony Hatch 1964
Sung by Petula Clark

What About Bob

My friend Bob Knorpp has a blog called Practically Drowning, and just wrote a great piece on the Hollywood writer's strike. It is a call to alternative ways of creative expression, including podcasting.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Photo of the Day - Friday October 26, 2007 - Young Maple

Was just thinking about Spring for some reason. This is a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), taken April 1, 2007.

See Flickr Photostream

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Photo of the Day - Thursday October 25, 2007 - Steps out of Fisher Park East


Check out my Flickr photostream here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Photo of the Day - Wednesday October 24, 2007 - Cross Country at Hagen Stone


My ten year old daughter Madeline took this picture with my little Canon A85 digital. I think it's a great shot - has a Chariots of Fire thing about it. Taken at Hagen Stone Park, Guilford County, NC. That's our Anna in the front of the pack! She went on to win in a somewhat slowly paced race. Next week...Regionals...

Catch my Flickr photostream here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who(m) Should I Vote For?

I’ve been thinking about the various blog posts a few weeks back after the rather low turn out for the primary election, as well as trying to figure out where I am coming from as far as local politics and the upcoming elections.

Local elections seem always to have a relatively lower turn out. I think voters think that generally local politics don’t impact their lives as much. I also think that things are pretty good here overall, because of or in spite of local politics I don't know, and that is a voting disincentive.

I think that there also may be a sense, here and elsewhere, that the real players in local politics are not even the elected officials. Here in Guilford County it seems that the two most powerful people are employees – Terry Grier and Mitch Johnson. And of course there are the moneyed people putting together the deals in the back rooms as with everywhere else. Our mayor isn’t even a real mayor; he’s more of a figurehead. Maybe Billy would shake things up a little, even as a figurehead. At least he’d always have the “Billy Pulpit!”

For myself, there has been a sense of growing cynicism over the years. I have found our local governments to be rather childish generally, and dominated by special interests, including developers on the one hand and the Skip Alston crowd on the other. I have a friend who refers to the council members as real estate whores. You might find that sort of thing said in the prophetic books of the Bible – maybe there is something to it.

It seems we’re paralyzed by the politics of race and the politics of development.

I wish real estate folks and developers should recuse themselves from many of our important votes.

But look at the present slate, it is filled with developers and real estate people. Are these the only folks with enough time and money to serve on our councils, or do they have secret back room meetings where they choose who will run to represent their collective interests each election cycle?

All that being said, I think the city and county have done well regarding downtown and regarding recent corporate decisions, especially out at the airport with Honda and now Skybus. I wonder if those things would have happened without the infrastructure created by the Fed Ex project.

There are two or three issues that dominate my concerns looking ahead at the new election.

First, I want to see real transparency in local government. I am tired of the childish hide and seek games. If the city council had released information in a timely manner we may have come closer to resolving the whole Wray affair; or we would have already long concluded that we couldn’t resolve it. I think all of the incumbents should be kicked out.

Second, I want to see our county develop in a planned and orderly and environmentally friendly manner. Who amongst all of our developer politicians is going to allow that? I’ve seen some good signs from Joe Wilson, but otherwise I think sprawl and all the problems that go with it will continue until we have folks looking after the interest of the whole and not the interest of the most recent development project.

Third, I want to see our gang problem addressed. Public safety and security is the primary purpose of government, and we are dropping the ball. Unfortunately I don’t really trust the city to properly allocate money given for police to help with gangs, and anti gang units are known for corruption. It’s a nasty business.

Fourth, I want to see us address the problem of both the chronically and acutely homeless. They can’t panhandle, and now they can’t loiter. I mean, what are they supposed to do, walk in circles all day? Seems we need 2 or 3 more shelters with options for longer stays, group homes, easier access to subsidized medical care, including mental health care, employment assistance, and the option of being committed somewhere if their human life is at stake.

Fifth, I think way too much money is going into brick and mortar for schools, and way too little money for teachers. There is not a brand spanking new building in the world that can compete with well paid highly qualified teachers in terms of educational quality. Less money for superintendents of various kinds, less money for buildings, and more money for teachers. We need to incentivize our best college students into teaching.

Sixth, I would like to see the city "just say no" to annexation against the will of the annexed. I know the state allows for this, but it strikes me as so fundamentally undemocratic that I think we should decline the privilege.

Seventh, I personally would like to see more school choice, especially vouchers for those in the least well performing schools, and if not vouchers more magnet and charter schools.

Eighth, though as a white person I doubt I will ever adequately appreciate the damage done to communities, families, and individuals over time by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and general racism, I would like to see us looking to the future together and not the past. I’m tired of the race card being always held in the hand, ready to pull out. I think it results in dumb decisions being made out of fear.

Ninth, is the Heart of the Triad really ever going to be something? I am not sure that Triad regionalism is the right way to go. I think a Metro Guilford approach is smarter, taking advantage of the real population and transportation patterns that we have already.

Tenth and finally, and this is like, duh, of course I would go for this, but I’d like to see a tree ordinance. Developer scare tactics about how this will suddenly make housing unaffordable are just that – scare tactics. There is a significant economic, aesthetic, environmental, and quality of life downside to the loss of our tree canopy. I think I heard Joe Wilson address this too. What, a real estate person with a heart for trees? Ah, life can be good.

Well, maybe you can remind me of the ten things I haven’t thought about. I always leave out something in any top ten, as when I left David Gilmour off my list of top ten favorite guitar players. What an idiot!

Please also tell me who you think I should vote for, given 1 through 10 above.

Photo of the Day - Tuesday October 23, 2007 - Protect Haw River State Park

Madeline and I saw this on Church Street just south and across the street from the pedestrian bridge connecting Fisher Park and Aycock neighborhoods. I think it is the coolest Haw River Park sign I have seen yet!

For my Flickr photostream, look here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Picture of the Day - Monday October 22, 2007 - Leaf and Stream, Fisher Park

Sunday afternoon my daughter Madeline spent an hour walking around Fisher Park taking pictures. She loved walking in the creek - I hope the water is OK there. We have a lot of pictures - the beauty of digital cameras! Fisher Park remains my favorite park in town. Can you name the group that had a song "Leaf and Stream" without looking it up. It's on an album in my top ten favorites of all time, but it's a little obscure. The leaf is from a Tulip Poplar. There is some scummy stuff on the water's surface that looks like dust on the camera lens - it isn't. The water wasn't exactly flowing hard!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Evolution and Racial Variety

There is an interesting article in The Independent today regarding comments by the famous Dr. Watson (of Watson and Crick fame) regarding differences in intelligence between African and other peoples.

I am not writing to defend his conclusions, and I doubt them to be true. I am writing to illustrate the intellectual pickle in which proponents of evolutionary theory find themselves.

Dr. Watson writes:

"There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

He is exactly correct, and this is indeed the huge elephant in the evolutionary room that no one seems capable of addressing. If we embrace the evolutionary origins of human beings, we are left having to conclude exactly the principle Dr. Watson concludes. We cannot have our evolutionary cake and eat it too. It is absolutely possible, given the assumptions of evolutionary theory, that such intellectual or other variations could exist across the diverse variety within our human species, much as they exist across other species. And to say so does not make Dr. Watson or anyone else a racist. In fact, to embrace evolutionary theory regarding human origins you pretty much HAVE to agree with the principle stated above, or you are letting your personal moral or political sensitivities override the principles of the science you embrace. And you are revealing fundamental ignorance regarding evolutionary theory.

If scientific research proves that it isn’t in fact the case that such variations exist, it still does not undermine the possibility that such variations could exist. But the politically correct powers that be will destroy anybody whose science leads them to that conclusion.

As for me, I rest in the fact that all human beings of every race and gender were created in the image of God and find their fundamental equality in that reality.

Ultimately, given time, after the truth of God-given human equality has had opportunity to overcome sin-based prejudices (even amongst "Christian” peoples), this age old Judeo Christian view of human origins will provide the principles that will lead to policies of equality. On the other hand, if our politics find grounding in principles of evolutionary understandings of human origins (which must require or teach no principle of equality whatsoever), eventually some sort of race-based differential of policy will result. At the present moment, culture wide, our human equality assumptions are invalid to the extent that they are rooted in evolutionary principles.

There was another side item in the article on Dr. Watson. As the article said:

“In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual."

I mean, the hypocrisy and inconsistency behind the objections to this comment are too numerous to mention. So, we can abort a healthy child for any reason, and that is not objectionable? We can abort a child because it is not of the preferred gender (and studies have shown conclusively that the vast majority of abortions done due to gender have resulted in the abortion of female babies) but not because of predicted or supposed sexual preference? We can abort children for being imperfectly formed? That is the most terrible reason of all.

So, predicted sexual preference above and beyond all others is the one reason we can’t abort a child. Talking about unusual and exceptional rights given to one sub group of the society. Wow. Now THAT’S discrimination!

By the way, I don’t think we should abort children for any of these reasons, because I believe that all children, whatever their race, gender or predicted sexual preference, are human beings made in the image of God.

Twenty Ways to Leave More Water

1. Put bricks or a filled gallon milk container inside the back of your toilet.

2. Don’t shave if it requires water to do so. Those of us who shave in sink or shower, let’s all agree not to shave until the drought is over! How about a united “body hair is good” declaration. Eventually we’ll go back to normal.

3. If you have two toilets, have a “pee pot” and a “poop pot.” The pee pot can be flushed once or twice a day. the other you may want to flush more often.

4. Don’t run the water whole you’re brushing your teeth. In fact, do a dry brushing until the rinse stage. You can even get used to the no rinse effect if you try.

5. Just let the car be dirty. Even if you normally take it in to the car wash, that uses a lot of water. Make a game out of how many dumb things you can write in the dust on your car while you wait for rain. Just don't write "wash this car please;" that is lame.

6. Wear jeans and other heavier clothes that can be worn for a week or so without washing. If we all smell like Europeans for a while, so what?

7. Have some of those important work clothes dry cleaned instead of laundered. You won’t get starch that way but it still beats cleaning at home, and uses no water.

8. Buy drinking water that is bottled somewhere not in the south.

9. Take shorter showers. Period. You can do it. Your teenage daughter can do it. Your teenage son can do it. Give the teen age kids a timer, and if it goes off before they're done, turn off the water (or at least the hot water :-). That will teach them to hurry.

10. Just let the grass die. We have to re-seed it anyway so who cares really.

11. Collect the water that runs while you wait for it to heat up for use on your plants. For that matter, use some of that mildly dirty water from the shower or bath or sink to water your plants as well. They can handle it.

12. Make sure you have a low flow shower head and a low flow toilet – you may as well do this now since it’s a good idea for the long haul anyway.

13. "Just say no" to the garbage disposal – throw the food bits in the trash can or put them in a compost heap. It takes a lot of water to use a disposal.

14. It will rain eventually. Get a rain barrel for capturing water from your down pipes for when that happens. That may seem extreme, but it's kind if cool. Use the water as soon as possible on your plants to avoid mosquitos from laying eggs in your rain barrel.

15. If you have the money, buy water saving appliances, as in low flow dishwashers, front end washing machines, etc.

16. Drain the pool. Just do it. You can survive a season without your heated pool.

17. If you have a just a few dishes to wash, wash them in the sink with just a tad of water, running the faucet only to rinse.

18. Some landscape plants are worth saving. Use water as gathered above, or, if you must, use a drip hose, and add lots of mulch around the most important plants.

19. Don’t hose off anything. Brooms and wipe cloths work pretty well.

20. Whatever boneheaded local officials managed to leave us with a lake full of water with no way to treat it, vote them out of office.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gooooooo Gamecocks!

It's not often I get to say that around here. I pull for NC against everybody BUT Clemson and South Carolina. I may end up eating dirt, but I'm hoping for a good thrashing of NC at the hands of Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks of South Carolina Saturday. Hey, anybody that's still whining about Spurrier's Duke team running up a score deserves to get whooped.

Not that you'd care, but I grew up a Tar Heel fan. My dad graduated form North Carolina in 1950 or 51 . He was a betting man, and we watched or listened to every North Carolina game there was, no matter the sport. It is one of my great memories that my roommate and I went over to my parent's house in March 1982 to watch the famous win against Georgetown. Finally the drought (since 1957) had been broken. My dad was ecstatic! And I was happy too.

Going back in time, I was all Tar Heel in the 1960's, even growing up in Columbia, SC. then one day the South Carolina basketball team came to my basketball league banquet, in 1968 I think. I met Skip Harlika and several others, and started to pull for South Carolina more. Then came Bobby Cremins, John Roche, Tom Owens, John Ribbock, Brian Winters, John Riker, Kevin Joyce, Mike Dunleavy, and Alex English in quick succession, and I was hooked!

I was planning to attend North Carolina for college starting in the fall of 1975. I had been admitted, and expressed my intent. Then my dad sat me down at Christmas 1974 and told me we couldn't afford out of state tuition. I had not applied to any in-state school. Oops. I didn't want to go to college in my home town, so I applied in a hurry to Clemson, and that's where I went.

I loved Clemson, and consider that really to be my undergraduate college. It is really a super place to attend undergraduate school. But after five semesters I felt I had to resolve some major issues of faith, so I took a semester off and went to study at a place called L'Abri Fellowship in Greatham England. When I got back I felt disconnected from my friends at Clemson, and was behind in my program, and I sort of wanted just to finish undergraduate school ASAP. So, I took 21 hours a semester and two sessions of summer school and graduated from South Carolina in August 1979.

That's the story of how I am a Clemson fan, a South Carolina fan, and a North Carolina fan. I always pull for Clemson or SC against NC, NC against anybody else, and Clemson against SC, unless SC has more to gain by a win.

The greatest live sporting event of my life was the Clemson-South Carolina football game in November 1977 at South Carolina, which Clemson won in the waning moments. I'll write about that later.

For now, for this weekend, "Gooooooooooooo Gamecocks!"

Going Downtown

I was standing with a friend outside the Guilford Building at the corner of Washington and S. Elm, and taking in all the sounds and smells and people rushing to and fro, and thought, "This is going to be good."

We had just been looking at a small double office looking north on the fifth floor, and had had a great conversation with the owner/manager.

It was Bell South that got this whole thing started. My current three year lease with them ends at the end of the month, and we had to make a decision as to what to do about phone and internet service. Being a charter member of CABS (Citizens Against BellSouth) or now, CATNATT (Citizens Against "The New AT&T") may have contributed to an openness to look elsewhere, but mostly it was an unexpected call from my friend to come check out the place he had found.

I'm excited as I anticipate working and walking and eating and talking along Elm Street in Greensboro. I've been working by myself with few people around for a long time and that has contributed a bit to my malaise of late.

Though as the crow flies the Guilford Building is farther from my house than my present office, it's actually a closer drive, given the more direct route. And I may even be able to take a bus to work sometimes since the Depot is almost next door to the Guilford Building. There is a stop on Lawndale a couple of blocks from my house. I haven't ridden a city bus since Vancouver. Maybe I'll even ride my bike! Or get a scooter.

So, if any of you blogger folk are downtown, maybe I'll see you around.

Oh, and if you're wondering why I am posting today after my retirement Monday, I listened to Ed. I stepped back without feeling guilty (and have gotten more exercise - even started running), and today I had time and interest to post. My second flip flop this season. Oh well.

I'm Voting for Billy

Billy, when you get enough money for signs, give me one, or sell me one.

I think a Billy Jones candidacy would juice up these local elections quite nicely.

Billy, I can already see you on channel 13! You would would be WAY more fun to watch than Mr. Holliday, or Yvonne Johnson.

Ann Coulter, Jews, and Christians

There are few people who speak less tactfully and more controversially than Ann Coulter, and I certainly don’t wish to be on her bandwagon. Over at the Daily Greensboring Beth has featured a very controversial quotation by Ann Coulter in an interview with Donny Deutsch.

I think the interview must have been connected to promotion/discussion of Coulter’s new book. In the course of the interview Coulter speaks about Christians as “perfected Jews” and says that Jews need to become Christians to be perfected as Jews. She uses language to the effect that Christians are “on the fast track,” whereas Jews “have to obey laws.”

Ann Coulter is no theologian, and not a very good popular speaker on the subject of Christianity. There are many things about what she says that are just not right. For example, Gentile Christians are certainly not perfected Jews. In the language of the New Testament, Gentile Christians may be thought of as “spiritual Jews,” or as the “true Israel of God.” And whereas that language may be irksome to Jews it doesn’t make Gentile Christians into perfected Jews.

And it also true that Christians see the Old Covenant as pointing to and being fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth in his person and ministry. It is of the essence of Biblical Christianity that Jesus in his person and work is the fulfillment and completion of the Old Covenant. He is viewed as the promised "anointed one" or "Messiah" longed for by the Jews of Jesus' day. That’s what makes Christianity Christianity. Uh, "Christ" means "Messiah." Is this some sort of secret? Jews and Christians then, and Jews and Christians today, don’t agree about Jesus. Jews think Christians are wrong. Christians think Jews are wrong. Muslims think both are wrong. Duh.

The fact that Jews and Christians disagree about these things does not make any one of them anti the other in the sense of being “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Christian” or whatever, in the prejudicial sense of the word. It means that as neighbors and even as friends we disagree about ultimate issues. And that is fine.

What about ethnic Jews who become Christians? Yes, Christians would say that in a real sense that they are perfected. Remember that Christianity arose out of Judaism. Not only was Jesus but all the disciples and apostles were Jews. Christianity's roots were and are in the word, life, and history of the covenant between YHWH God and His people Israel. Thus, Christianity was from the beginning a kind of “Jewish cult,” claiming that in Jesus, its leader, a very big new thing was happening in the history of God and His people as a fulfillment of all that had come before.

If a person believes that Jesus of Nazareth is who the New Testament Bible says that he is, and that Jesus did what the Bible said that he did, then obviously Christians are right to want Jews to become Christians. Given that set of premises, that would be the right thing to desire.

And if those premises are not right, and Jesus isn’t who the New Testament says he is, then obviously Jews should be concerned for Christians whose leader (a Jew) would have been justly condemned for blaspheming their God.

It does not offend me one bit if a Jew in his heart of hearts is worried over my fate, since I would be in his eyes following after a false messiah and believing all sorts of terribly wrong things about God. I hope he would be worried for me. I hope he would try to convince me otherwise. He perhaps would and should want me to convert to Judaism. He should want me to do that, well, if he is Jewish because he thinks Judaism is true, rather than for some other reason.

Ann Coulter has a way of putting things that creates offense even if the content and intent of her words are not inherently offensive. I think her words are more shallow and kind of pathetic than anything.

For one thing, the idea of Christians “having a fast track” and Jews “having to obey rules” is simplistic beyond belief. Christian discipleship is grueling as well as joyful, and there are more than enough commandments right from Jesus’ own mouth to keep Christians striving their whole lives with all of their hearts to be obedient to Him. Rather, in New Testament terms, Christians would say that they are not (or are "no longer" if they are converted Jews) “under Torah.” They would say that even Jewish believers in Jesus are no longer “under Torah.” They would even say that Jews who become Christians must no longer be “under Torah.” This means that the Torah is no longer the operative center of the godly life, or of the Christian life – Jesus is. To submit to part of Torah would be to submit to it all, which puts the person back under the Torah’s curse, whereas, it is believed by Christians, Jesus suffered the covenant curse for His people (the Jews) and also opened up access to their God to Gentiles.

But you can see that these are nuanced and complex arguments. I could write volumes just trying to explain what this does and does not mean. To reduce this stuff to slogans (and bad slogans at that) as Ann Coulter does I find to be offensive to reason, to neighborliness, and to the seriousness of the issues.

But look, if you are a Jew, I think it would be totally appropriate for you to think that I, as a Christian, am wrong. That does not offend me. I hope that together we can stick up for each other’s rights for free assembly and free expression, for life and liberty and pursuit of happiness, even as me may otherwise disagree about these ultimate matters.

For the Children's Sake

Betty Ruffin wrote in a letter to the News and Record today a piece called Preserve Haw River Park for Our Children's Sake.

She cites Richard Louv’s book "Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit-Disorder" as on of the reasons to protect the open space/integrity of the Haw River State Park.

Louv is right; his book is dead on. Ruffin is right; the rubber meets the road with issues like Haw River State Park.

Without quoting or even thinking about Louv’s book, I made a similar argument in my letter to the County Commissioners. One can belittle the “for the children’s sake” argument, but preserving and protecting the few remaining pieces of open land and good forest that we have is something we can and should do for our children, and for their children.

A Gore Candidacy?

I don’t see it. Why ruin the luster of a Nobel Peace Prize with the down in the dirt messiness of what may well be an ill fated presidential campaign? And would Gore really add much to the implementation of policy consistent to his own cherished climate change views, compared to what may come from a Clinton or Obama presidency? I don’t see it. He has his place in history now. Were I he, I would use the credibility and heightened status of a Nobel Prize to rise above the fray and be an international statesman for the issue. To enter the campaign to me would smell of opportunism, and would cast a shadow upon the sincerity of his climate change work.

I may be one of a small minority who may wonder, "Why a “peace” prize?" It is only speculation at this point as to how much global warming may impact world peace, and it is also only speculation as to whether any policies we may endorse will impact the warming trend anyway, not only because we are not sure of the level to which human caused CO2 emissions are responsible for the warming, but also we not sure how much they can be significantly reversed no matter what we do, particularly given China and India's industrial growth.

Either way, and being sympathetic to Gore for the sake of argument, I think his status as a Nobel Prize winner gives him more impact in the world if he is outside of American presidential politics, maybe a role not unlike that of Bono.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

White Collar Blues

My body was made for motion, not for sitting here all day at my desk. I should be hunting buffalo, walking behind a plow, riding a horse, building a barn, or felling a tree and digging up the stump.

But I’m here. Most of my friends at this moment are in the same position. Sitting. Body systems rebel. Veins, arteries, intestines, muscles, bladders, hearts, and lungs thrive with bodily movement and hard pumping blood. Sitting here, the whole body just gets clogged up.

Most of my friends cannot afford to do what they would really like to do. The rugged manual labor they desire cannot pay for mortgage, car, braces, clothes, and college. There is tragedy here. The economic system has us in its claws, and it won’t let go.

Vocationally, my brain is pitted against my body. My work is largely mental. I exercise dominion through thought - studying, writing, talking on the phone, praying, doing paper work, conversing at a restaurant. Frankly, I have great job. But my body gets the short end of the stick.

The paper piles up. It is my enemy. How do I love this enemy? It reproduces at night when I’m gone. One pile becomes two, two becomes four, and the tension builds. I end up carving out an entire day to attack the piles.

“You need more exercise,” the doctor says. “Your blood pressure is too high, your cholesterol is too high, your weight is too high.”

Fine, doctor. But when? Do I take time from my wife, my kids, or my employer? How do I do it all? How do I fit it all in, doctor?

I don’t want the never ending cycle of antibiotics for prostate infections, laxatives for constipation, aspirin for headaches, and antacids for indigestion. I don’t want to be flabby and sleepy from inactivity. I want to be strong, vigorous, and awake. I want to be energetic and productive.

I don’t want to die when I’m fifty five from clogged arteries. I don’t want to spend my last years undergoing chemotherapy for bowel cancer. I want to see my five daughters grow up. I want to know my grandkids, and maybe even my grandkids' kids. I want to have the wisdom of years. I want to keep learning how to be a good pastor, that is, if being a pastor doesn’t kill me.

Why can’t exercise be a part of my work? Why do I have to “find the time” to do it?

I know. Whining won’t help. I’m being a baby. I’m singing the blues, the white collar blues. I should count my blessings. I have a great job. It really couldn’t be better. I am stimulated, challenged, and encouraged. I am appreciated, loved, and valued. I have the rare privilege of actually wanting to attend the church that I pastor. There is no group of people I would rather be with.

But I still don’t want to croak from plaque build up. I still don’t want to have the muscle definition of a wet noodle. Where will I find the time to carve out an hour and a half a day to exercise? I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time not to. I must. Somehow.

I’ve been trying to walk/run four miles as many days as possible. Granted, it’s not felling trees and hunting buffalo, but it’s a start. I’m working on filling up several other hours of my week with similar activity. I hope it works. It has to.

I need to follow my own counsel. I need to remind myself that I too live in a fallen world. What are paper piles but modern day versions of thorns and thistles? Did I really think God would grant Joel Gillespie a personal exemption from the curse?

Though the system seems to have me by its claws, it has also brought good things my way for which I am very thankful, things like this computer, like the medicine that healed my daughter’s bronchitis, like electricity and phones and a warm place on a cold night, like angioplasty...

And maybe we can go buffalo riding in the New Heaven and New Earth. I hope so.

Monday, October 08, 2007

See 'Ya Around

I am the most fickle blogger I know. I have to stop being fickle. I turn 50 and I can't manage to do anything well it seems! Anyway, to all of you out there, just thought I'd say Sayōnara. I am going to be signing off today, probably for good. I'll give it a week or so before I make the sight go invisible. Just need to put my energies elsewhere. It's been fun, despite being off and on for me, and I appreciate you all. Maybe I'll see you around the city. Joel.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

On Dobson, Guliani, and Being Pro-Family

Having spent some time distancing myself from Dobson and company this week, I will now come to their defense, well, a little.

Ed Cone noted today that James Dobson had issued a statement to the effect that he and other “pro-family” leaders would look elsewhere if a Republican presidential nominee could not take a clear position regarding the sanctity of human life.

Ed goes on to take issue with Dobson and Co’s use of the “pro-family” rubric or designation.

James Dobson, along with many others, including myself, believe that human life is sacred and that it begins at conception. Sacred human life includes the lives of the weak and infirm, the handicapped, the homeless, and the mothers of unborn children – all human life.

I myself would or could never ever vote for a person who actively advocated for abortion rights.

In one sense, if we’re talking about abortion it might be better to call Dobson, the Pope, and anyone else who holds this view “pro-life” rather than "pro-family." Yet, if one views unborn life as human life, and as sacred, he would consider that yet-unborn life as part of the family of whoever was bearing the child. So, there is an overlap between these designations. Would a person be considered “pro-family” who advocated for infanticide-rights? I doubt it. I would suspect that most folks reading this, even if they didn’t agree with the comparison of abortion and infanticide, would grant the point that being “pro-infanticide rights” might not be consistent with being “pro-family.”

Well, pro-life folks believe that abortion is a form of infanticide. So, if being pro-infanticide rights would not be considered pro-family, then to a pro-life person, being pro-abortion rights would not be considered pro-family either.

But the rubric of “pro-family” is broader than just the issue of abortion. It includes views about marriage, about marriage and divorce, about the relative intrusion or non intrusion of the state into essential family issues. Obviously Ed and others who may be more supportive of abortion rights, gay marriage, and no fault divorce (I don’t know Ed’s view on that issue) may indeed have wonderful families and care a lot about families. They may even be pro-abortion rights or pro-gay marriage because of the way that they are, in their minds, pro-family. And, as can be easily pointed out, there are many things which bring harm to children (even unborn children), and to others who are weak and defenseless, which are not on the radar of pro-family groups like Dobson’s.

So it might be better to change the rubric to “pro-traditional family,” or something like that, and it would be better yet for pro-traditional family advocates to be more broadly and consistently pro-life and pro-family and weigh in on issues where the lives of children and needy adults are at stake, even economic issues whereby families are torn apart due to extreme financial pressure or lives are lost due to unavailability of health care.

This is where I part somewhat with Dobson, because I would like to see pro-traditional family advocates be more consistent and not cherry pick just the abortion or gay marriage issues. Many issues impact human life and impact families.

As to voting for Guliani, that will hard for me as well. I may take some comfort in the nuanced manner in which he has taken his abortion position. It appears that he is hiding behind the courts, and that he might prefer to address the issue through the appointing of more strictly constructionist judges. I have yet to discover his view on partial birth abortion, an issue where legislation has made a big difference. I could never vote for a person who supported the rights of women and doctors to abort partially born babies, or to allow babies who have survived abortions to die – even if you held a big gun to my head. Go ahead and shoot. It won’t be happening.

But for Dobson and all to support a third party candidate will almost certainly give the election to the Democrats. Maybe Dobson would prefer this – it would certainly give him lots of debating and fundraising grist for four to eight years, and it would allow the American public to become re-energized as they see the impact of a Democratic president and congress with respect to these issues. I think it may be foolish however for the pro-life cause since, all things considered, even Guliani will be more sympathetic to Dobson’s issues than the average Democrat, or Hillary Clinton, especially in the naming of judges. It may be a cynical gamble for them to abandon the Republican nominee.

I agree with Ed that this may be just bluster when the rubber actually meets the road. We’ll see how high minded these folks are when faced with a likely win by a serious and consistent abortion rights advocate on the other side.

Picture of the Day - October 4, 2007 - Highway 61, Revisited

A Guilford County NC Farm, May 2006, off Highway 61, SE Guilford County (enjoy it - these scenes are disappearing fast!)

Confessions of a Lazy Carnivore

I appreciated Sarah Beth Jone's piece today entitled "Tabletop activism: the case for conscientiously raised meat." You should check it out.

Sarah Beth is not making an argument for vegetarianism. Rather, she addresses the primary health and ethical concerns about the way we raise, treat, and feed animals. In doing so she offers advice on how to be a responsible and morally conscientious omnivore. I completely agree with her. But I confess that it is so hard to DO everything that I think is right and best.

I wish I could afford a Prius: I can't. I wish I could afford solar panels on my house: I can't. As far as making the best decisions as a consumer, well, I can barely stay on top of things in my life as they are. I am one of those guys who is terrified of grocery shopping, and to avoid getting lost in the dark back alleys of the grocery store I grab what's close and run.

But I want to be the ethically responsible omnivore that Sarah Beth writes about. I do believe that the manner in which the meat industry for the most part raises cows and pigs and chickens is unconscionable. Even a cow deserves a life consistent with his "cowness." And (of course, blah blah) I believe that we humans have a special responsibility toward the well being of our fellow creatures.

The manner in which cows are fed and medicated is also a concern. The corn that is fed to cows results in nice marbled juicy meat, that is, fatty meat. Add this to all the antiobiotics and hormones cows are forced to eat and what is left is meat that is NOT nearly as good for us as meat could be.

I have always been burdened by one other matter. It takes an unbelievable amount of corn to feed cows so we can have marbled meat. Cows have bacteria in their systems which allow them to digest cellulose; they are made to eat grasses which we cannot eat and digest. So we feed them corn, which could be used to feed people, and keep them from eating grass, which people cannot eat. Something does not seem square about that.

I want to be what Sarah Beth writes about, a conscientious omnivore. If only I can find time in the schedule to get out to the farmers market to buy that meat which is better for me which allows for a better life for the cow.

Joel

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Picture of the Day - October 2, 2007 - Baseball on My Mind

"Minor League" or pre-Little League, Satchel Ford Baseball League, Columbia, SC, app. 1967. I was nine years old.

Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na

Ed Cone yesterday referred to an article by Steven Thomma on "the waning power of Christian conservatives." This follows much ballyhoo from different quarters about John McCain's comments about having a Christian verses a Muslim as president.

I wanted to express a few thoughts as a theologically conservative Christian and as a Christian pastor. I do not claim to be an expert on these matters, but here are a few thoughts.

I have never been comfortable with the idea (and reality) of evangelical Christians as a "voting block." Why?

First, there is no clear biblical direction as to what a government or government policy could or should look like, and to pretend that there is is just silly. For example, there is no inherent reason why biblical Christians should want a government of size "A" and opposed to size "B." The Bible does not direct us as to the relative power of the federal government as opposed to the states. It does not tell us at what level we should be taxed, just that we are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Thus, there is no reason evangelicals could not hold varying and diverse views on these matters. I'm tired of self appointed evangelical gurus telling me how to think and vote.

Second, the evangelical political gurus have cherry picked what issues I as a Christian should care about. I do care about abortion and gay marriage, but I also care about the environment and how we help the poor and needy amongst us. I don't like how theologically conservative Christian citizens have let the evangelical radio and TV gurus tell us what issues should concern us as. Who elected them?

Third, I think that the over-focus on these things has been a perversion of the mission of Christianity, and of the church. There is a saying, often used to disparage Christians, that goes something like "he is so heavenly minded he is of no earthly good." Well, I have never met that guy. The Christians I know who are the most earthly good are in fact the most heavenly minded.

Christianity is inherently an eschatological religion. It looks down the long (or short) corridors of history to come, and it sees the return of Jesus, the resurrection, judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth. It looks behind the veil of the present and sees Jesus enthroned at God's right hand, and as "Lord." In the one sense, it lives and breathes on the hope of what is to come. In theother, it sees past the fading and transient issues and geopolitical realities to a greater and more abiding reality. The Christian whose hope is a living hope is free to give of himself or herself in radical way because the really big issues of life have been settled, and he can let go of pride and greed and self interest in order to love and serve others. The Christian who sees beyond the transient shadows of the moment is more able to "set his mind on Jesus" and thus become more like Him. This ultimately is more transformative of present life than anything else.

The fact is, as much as we may love our country, it is just one of the nations of the earth that come and that go. Christians have a longer and deeper perspective - or should.

The Christian Coalition has also steered Christians and churches away from their primary mission, which is that of making disciples, of growing in personal and community holiness, of loving our neighbor, and in seeing the gospel of Christ go to the four corners of the world. The "voting block" thing perverts the purpose of Christians and of the Church. No, I am not saying that caring for our communities and the issues we face together with our neighbors is unimportant. Christians are also citizens and they should care - and they have a right to care. I am saying that doing that as a "voting block" is not the best way to so care.

Fourth, over-identification of the evangelicals with any political party or theory has eviscerated the Church's prophetic and moral voice. It has rendered the evangelical Church incapable of speaking with power to the injustice, the greed, the immorality, the corruption, the idolatry that underlies much of the right and left. Although I am very glad for any progress for example that can be made through laws and court decisions regarding the rights of the unborn, I also realize that nothing will work to lessen abortion as much as a conviction that it is just wrong. As much as I wish local councils and assemblies would step back and not let the greedy "add house to house," and thus either disenfranchise the poor or destroy the beauty of God's world, ultimately it will be inner moral conviction that persuades and changes decision making more than anything. In gaining the power of being a political voting block Christians have given over their moral voice.

Fifth, in adopting a certain vision of the United States as some sort of inherently Christian nation, either in its founding or in its Constitution, the evangelical voting block machine has lost its rational and historical credibility. Yes, it may be the case that the Constitution was meant to give us freedom of religion and not freedom from religion, yet, the historical revisionism of the Christian right has come to match that of the left in sheer lunacy and idiocy.

I am a Christian. That is more important to me than being an American, then being (more or less) a political conservative, than being a southerner, than being any other thing. But I am also a citizen of the United States of America, and a resident of Greensboro, state of North Carolina. As such I have as much right and responsibility to speak to issues, to care about how structures and policies impact me and my family and my neighbor, AND to vote, as does anyone else. I will do that to the best of my ability, even as I seek to love my neighbor in even more important ways personally and face to face. I don't need James Dobson or James Kennedy or Pat Robertson to tell me how to do that.

So as far as the Evangelical voting block thing goes, all I can say is...

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye.

Joel

My Top Ten Favorite Guitarists

Here is my answer to the CA's fun post about favorite guitarists. I don't pretend to know who is really best or most important, these are just my favorites, well, this week! Sorry guys, no Van Halen in my list.

1. Carlos Santana
2. Duane Allman
3. Stevie Ray Vaughan
4. Jimi Hendrix
5. Jimmy Page
6. Terry Kath
7. Eric Clapton
8. Mark Knopfler
9. Chuck Berry
10. The Edge

My Baseball Play Off Hopes - a Great Lakes Series

These are not predictions, just what I'd like to see:

American League

The Angels defeat the Red Sox 3 games to 2
The Indians defeat the Yankees 3 games to 0

The Indians defeat the Angels 4 games to 2

National League

The Cubs defeat the Diamondbacks 3 games to 2
The Rockies defeat the Phillies 3 games to 1

The Cubs Defeat the Rockies 4 games to 3.

World Series

The Indians defeat the Cubs 4 games to 3. Or...
The Cubs defeat the Indians 4 games to 3. (I can't decide)


And I am afraid that I will actually see something quite different.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Photo of the Day - October 1, 2007 - Butterfly Bush Flower Cluster



From our butterfly garden, fading away now in the drought.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Government for the Poor

As a political conservative, more or less, I tend to prefer smaller government, and tend to prefer that individuals take responsibility for themselves, and for the government not to be a nanny. Yes, I am one of those who sees the primary purposes of government as being that of public protection (fire, police, military) and providing necessary infrastructure and basic services (highways, water, courts, etc).

(Which reminds me, our local government really needs to get on the ball as regards gang activity, and why don’t we have water ready to flow from Randleman Lake? That is a governmental disgrace.)

Generally I tend not to be as supportive of large government welfare programs for individuals and families.

But, trying to be a praying man, and trying to pray the Psalms each day, I came across a Psalm that I have read many times but which struck me in a new way this week - Psalm 72. The heading of this Psalm says that it is “Of Solomon” who was of course the king for a good while. So Psalm 72 is a prayer to God by the king for the king. I am sure there are parts of the Psalm which some would find objectionable, but I wanted to excerpt a few passages which give some insight as to a government's responsibility to the most needy of its people.

Notice how it begins:

1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

About this king the Psalm goes on to say:

12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.

I know, ours is no theocracy, but is there any insight to be gained from these Jewish and Christian Scriptures?

For myself, I cannot say in any categorical way that it is not the job of government to care about the weak and needy and poor. In other places in the Scripture emphasis is also placed on orphans, widows, and strangers and aliens, the latter which means, more or less, immigrants.

It seemed to be a big deal to Solomon that he as king do right by the poor. It mattered a whole bunch to the prophets. Maybe it should matter to us too.

If a king finds himself praying to God that he care about and do justly for the poor and needy, could not a representative assembly do the same? Well, I mean if they were allowed to pray that is.

Just food for thought.

Joel

Red in Tooth and Claw

This post is not for the faint of heart.

We have four cats. One of the four is an indoor/outdoor cat. He stays out at night. He hunts, a lot. He eats what he kills. He has been eating a lot of chipmunks lately.

The other day we found him having eaten almost all of a chipmunk's body except the head. In the little mouth of the head that was left, there was a large acorn. It was creepy.

Many people know me as a kind of naturalist, nature boy, environmentalist. I am certainly very keen about preserving and protecting habitats so animals and plants can be protected and cared for and preserved.

I have studied enough biology, entomology, and general animal behavior to know that “nature” is in fact brutal. It’s eat or be eaten. It is a tough world out there.

I was watching National Geographic the other day, watching a pride of lions taking down an adult water buffalo, starting to eat it even before it was dead. They even showed a group of lions eating another lion, a member of the same pride, for no apparent reason. I think in the same show I saw sharks ripping apart seals, crocodiles ripping apart zebras, and polar bears ripping into beluga whales.

OK, here is the reason for this post. Environmentalist that I am and will remain, there is something about the “natural” world that seems out of kilter to me, not quite right, not as it was or is supposed to be, not, well, natural.

Do we really think that the ideal universe has cats eating chipmunks and lions eating water buffalo? And what about parasitic wasps laying their eggs inside of other insects, and those eggs becoming larvae inside the other insect, and those larvae eating the other insect from the inside out? I mean, that scene in Alien, the first Alien, where the alien creature comes ripping out of the guy's stomach, well, that’s every day life in your back yard folks.

I think my instinctive feel, my feel that this is not quite right, is consistent with the first chapter of the Bible. There was no predation there. Animals could only eat plants. And God saw it, and it was very good.

Then something went wrong, and one consequence, in the Bible story, is that man and nature became “red in tooth and claw.”

I am NOT writing this to make an argument about creation and evolution. But the Christian vision of the “end of all things,” when God comes in his kingdom, seems to suggest that such predation will end. I realize that the language is symbolic, yet, it does say more than once that in the New Heaven and New Earth the lion will lie down with the lamb. I think there is more to that than a mere symbol of human peace.

And as much as I love nature “as it is,” I would be glad if all this blood and gore, all this hunting and killing, would come to an end.

I was driving up our road and stopped for a large hawk standing right in the middle of the road facing the other way. As I stopped, he swiveled his head to look back at me, and then turned back around to his business. There was a bird on the road, face up, wings pinned to the ground by the hawk's claws. I think the bird was a mourning dove. The hawk started systematically pulling away the chest feathers, releasing them into the breeze, where they glided gently away as a cloud. He did this for a bit and then you could see him pushing harder and twisting his head, and then holding his head back as to swallow. He turned and looked at me again. His beak was red. I don’t know if the bird was even dead yet.

The look had, “you’re next” all over it. I gave thanks that I was bigger than that hawk, because I think he would have pulled me out of my car and ripped me apart otherwise. As it was, he grabbed the body of the dove in his talons and flew off. It was an amazing sight. But still, is that how things are meant to be?

I wonder.

Patriotism

The other day at the Lucinda Williams concert Lucinda Williams commented about being a patriot in the “real” meaning of the word. She also mentioned being sent home from school for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance while we were in Vietnam.

It caused me to reflect on how much “patriotism” is a part of the political dialogue, and how uncomfortable I am with that.

Am I a patriot? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that means really. And as to what I think folks mean by it, I struggle embracing the word.

My struggle is as a Christian, and it is two fold. Whereas I seek to honor the civil authority, support the police, see a real need for a strong military, and am no pacifist, I cannot in good conscience bring myself to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know many Christian brethren who can and do say the Pledge, and I am cool with that. But I can’t. Why?

Well, first of all, what does it mean to pledge allegiance to a flag? If that meant nothing different than swearing to uphold the Constitution, then I could do that, just make the Pledge say that. As to the flag, I am not sure I know just what it is that the flag symbolizes in order to pledge my allegiance to it, though I am quite fond of our flag.

Second, what level of allegiance am I pledging? Total? Partial? Unconditional? It doesn’t say. As a Christian I am bound to the first and most elemental of all Christian creedal statements, and that is, “Jesus is Lord.” That may sound very pious and religious, but it has everything to do with where my life allegiance lies. And so, my allegiance to a flag, whatever that means, is secondary. But the Pledge makes it feel primary to me.

Third, I am not even sure than I agree with the latter part of the Pledge. Is our nation meant to be indivisible? The constitution does not say that as far as I can tell. I mean, it's kind of the same problem I have with Greensboro incorporating areas against the will of the citizens of those areas, or without the will of those citizens being required. I mean, what if Hawaii wanted to become an independent nation? Are we bound to keep the current arrangement of states even against the will of those states? That has always bugged me, but then again, I am from South Carolina so what do you expect.

And, fourth, what does it mean “under God.” If that means that our nation like all others falls under the providential rule of God, then that’s fine. But I don’t think the Pledge means that. If what we really mean is that we desire to be unified as a nation in self conscious submission to the God of the Bible, then, first, that just isn’t the case, and, second, though that would be fine with me, it isn’t consistent with our constitution, that gives people the right not to be self consciously in submission to the God of the Bible.

But number “two” above is the main issue for me.

In the conservative Christian world in which I travel a lot, saying what I have said above is like spitting on your mother's grave. There are people who would write me off as a Christian and as a citizen for saying what I have said. They would steer their kids away from me. They would stay away from the church that I pastor. Well, so be it. I think I am a good citizen, and I think I am trying to be a mindful Christian.

I have no desire to pledge myself to some quasi Christian civil religion that wraps what is to me the precious and eternal truth about God in and around a flag of any of the temporal and finite and sinful nations of the earth, including ours.

Does this mean that I am not thankful for being an American? Of course not. I am deeply thankful. Does it mean that I do not love my country? Well, I always pull for the USA in the Olympics. Does that count for anything? I love our history, our story, our land. I love our national heroes. I love our music. I appreciate and am proud of the posture the United States has taken in the world over time for the most part, especially how it has used its strength. I am very thankful for the freedoms afforded to me by our constitution. I am glad I live here and not in China or Iran or France. I am happy and willing to give thanks to God for that, and to celebrate my good fortune appropriately.

But when does “love of country” become blind nationalism? Nationalism scares me. And this is where the idea of patriotism in the present political climate bothers me. It has become a kind of litmus test. Obviously we want the people who lead our country to like our constitution, to care about our people, to will seek the public good with a full heart, to be willing to give of life and blood to protect and defend our people and our institutions. I could see myself doing all those things. I suppose we want to make sure folks are not secret communists or socialists of fascists and we look to certain verbal cues for assurance.

But I would also hope, were I a leader, that I could look at the dark side of our national identity and the dark side of our cultural assumptions and practices, and not necessarily assume that they are good or right just because they are our customs and practices.

Am I a patriot? Well, I guess that depends how you define the word. What do you think?

Joel

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lucinda Williams in Greensboro NC: A Review

I’ve always liked Lucinda Williams, though I am hardly an expert on her music. I’ve seen her on TV a few times. She always seemed rather conflicted, dark, uber-melancholy, frail, and fragile. When I’ve seen her in TV performances she has been almost statuesque and about as non-demonstrative as one can be. Nevertheless I have always thought she was a very gifted songwriter, one of the very very best of our generation. And I personally dig her voice.

I really wasn’t prepared for what hit me Sunday night at the Carolina Theater. First let me say that the experience of attending a concert at Carolina Theater was very positive. My seats in the front of the mezzanine were super. The sound quality was great. It’s a great venue for music.

I was quite taken and intrigued by Lucinda Williams herself. What I saw Sunday night did not match the mental image that I had developed – at all! There was a relaxed ease about her. She was way more chatty than I expected, very human and personable. She did a good job introducing the songs. Her performance also evidenced to me that she has rediscovered herself, her calling, her joy in music, and her voice - her voice was Lucinda Williams on steroids - strong, passionate, powerful, still with that gravely quality but also holding huge notes long and clear. She even looked stronger physically, maybe a little heavier, in a good sense, in that she has seemed to be quite frail to me in the past. She shared that she was engaged to her manager, and that at her age, and without kids, it can be quite hard on the road, and that is was very nice to be able to travel with your partner. She spoke of her songs as being her children, and her band as her family. Lucinda Williams had said herself early on that she thought she was at the peak of her career, and I totally agree with her assessment.

Her attire was interesting in its own way . She had on this utterly awful and totally endearing outfit where nothing "matched" whatsoever - she had kind of a retro hippie thing going plus a big cowboy hat, tons of eye make up, and a couple of her big tattoo’s popping out from her shoulders and upper arms. It seemed she was just cool with herself and really didn't care what you thought about how she looked. She moved a lot around the stage almost dancing, and so totally groovin' to the band, quite nicely giving them their place and their due, and very much seeming to dig their sound.

She even 'fessed up to the obvious - a notebook on a stand in front of her containing lyrics to her songs. She expressed wonder that people like Dylan and others could remember all their lyrics, and that she didn’t want to forget the words, thus the book.

The concert started with several Lucinda staples of the more alt-country variety. I have the set list below. I like her alt-country thing, so that was fine by me. In fact, I would say that between her voice and the band the music was beautiful and excellent. "Blue" was beyond beautiful. I was charmed.

When she introduced the 8th song, “Are You Alright,” she first said that contrary to common belief the song was not about an ex lover, but about her little brother. And then she mentioned a letter from a Vietnam veteran (who was also there at the show), wherein he shared that he had gone to Arlington Cemetery and sung that song to a fallen friend from Vietnam. She not only dedicated “Are You Alright” to this man, but also used that as a kind of thematic pivot for the rest of the show.

It wasn’t long before she put behind the alt-country thing and the show became a first rate rock concert. This began in full force with “Are You Down,” a song that has a kind of “Brazilian” thing about it (in her words). From then on every song included extended instrumental interludes, and those guys can flat out play, including Lucinda. I leaned over to my daughter during "Are You Down” and said that they sounded like the old Santana, and that was no small compliment. And it just went from there...by the time she sang her song “Joy” the band was smokin’ hot, and then they segued from "Joy” to “Riders on the Storm.” Wow, that was not expected, and it was groovy with a very big “G.” She finished out the pre-encore set with a hard-rockin' version of a really amazing song, “Unsuffer Me.”

Somewhere in all the incredible band work I felt a joy well up, that sort of transcendent happiness one like me feels at a butt kicking rock concert. I’m going to reflect upon that in a later post.

The closing set of five songs contained only one of her own, the rest were covers, amazingly well done. I need here to offer a word of criticism. I mentioned that she was chatty. Well, apparently the aforementioned letter had led her to change her set list to include songs consistent with a kind of sixties anti war theme. That’s fine of course, whether I agree with her or not. And I really liked the songs. In fact, she did the last four songs unbelievably well, and ended dramatically with the best version of Bob Dylan's “Masters Of War” that I have ever heard or could ever imagine hearing. It was powerful.

In contrast, her ranting was ineffectual and a little distracting. Well, it’s hard to call it ranting really, she talks so slowly, with “you know” breaking every sentence multiple times. She was a little apologetic for talking, maybe realizing the fact that, well, she is a much better song writer than speaker. I think she was self conscious about her obvious struggle to be articulate. I will say that she admitted that she didn’t know the answers, she was self effacing and humble, and she encouraged people to vote, and said she didn’t want to say who to vote for.

But there was still this “shut up and sing” thing going on in my head. And I think it was warranted. Like many artists she is much more persuasive and articulate and speaks way more powerfully through her art. I will go as far as to say that there is nothing she could have possibly said, were she John Kennedy himself, that could have added one iota to the power of the last few songs, especially “Masters Of War.” In fact, her talking took some of the oomph out of that song if anything, and left me a little less impressed overall. Her closing farewell of “peace, love, and revolution” was just kind of silly.

But I didn’t really care that much, for I had been treated to music of the highest quality, by a song writer with few peers, renewed and invigorated in singing and writing and obviously happy to be doing what she was doing, and for that I just say “thanks Lucinda,” and thanks for booking her Carolina Theater!

Greensboro Set List, September 23, 2007

1. Ventura
2. Fruits Of My Labor
3. Reason To Cry
4. Blue
5. Price To Pay
6. World Without Tears
7. Everything Has Changed
8. Are You Alright?
9. Drunken Angel
10. Are You Down?
11. Honey Chile (Fats Domino)
12. Honeybee (new song – not yet recorded)
13. Joy
14. Riders On The Storm (The Doors)
15. Unsuffer Me

Encore:

Poem Read – Pity the Nation

16. American Dream
17. For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
18. Marching The Hate Machine Into The Sun (Thievery Corporation, with lyrics penned by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips)
19. Masters Of War (Bob Dylan)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Picture of the Day - September 19, 2007 - Ferry Silhouette

Me, heading back from an excursion to Victoria, BC, scanned from slide. Taken on trip with my dad just prior to my first tour of duty at Regent College, Vancouver, late summer 1980, .

Took it on my old Fujica 801 by my dad. No filters, no post scan fiddling - this is just how it was. We were so incredibly lucky to have the sky the color it was, with the reflections off the water, and to be heading in the right direction! Actually I used my father a a subject, set the lighting and focus, and the gave him the camera to snap the picture. Soon after he bought his own Fujica and got the photo bug.

Lucinda Williams

I'm so happy! I'm going to see Lucinda Williams Sunday night at Carolina Theater with my daughter. Just picked up my tickets - seats right up front in the mezzanine. I know not everyone likes Lucinda William's gravely country-ish music, but I think she is a super songwriter, and kind of like her gravely voice. Here's a nice video from Austin City Limits. Two nights later is Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. That would be cool too. Want to see some amazing bass guitar, check this out!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Guilford Pine Trees

There seem to be four major pine species in Guilford County, with several minor species popping up here and there. It’s fun to learn and notice the differences.

But what is it that makes a tree a pine tree?

First of all, pines are evergreens, that is, they keep their leaves all year round. Actually the leaves are not really permanent, but they are not shed all at once at the coming of winter as with our deciduous trees.

Second, pines have long narrow leaves we commonly call needles rather then leaves. Most pines have needles that come in bunches of two to five, the bunch being connected and held together at the stem end of the needle by a sheath.

Third, pines all have cones. These are the woody (as opposed to pulpy) seed bearing fruits commonly called “pine cones.” The cones we think of as “pine cones” are the female or seed-bearing part of the pine reproductive system.

Pine trees are “gymnosperms,” that is, they produce “naked” seeds, or seeds without ovaries, seeds without surrounding fruits. Pine tree seeds are protected within the woody cone which is itself often covered with sharp scales to discourage animals from eating the seeds, though it is not unusual to see a cone stripped of scales and seeds by a hungry squirrel.

These uncovered seeds of Pine trees, when released from an open woody cone, generally circle to the ground like maple keys. Kids commonly call these pine seeds “helicopters.” When I was a kid we used to punt footballs straight up into the pine trees to knock loose the helicopters, which we then run all around and try to see how many we could catch before they hit the ground.

The very small male cones or catkins at the top of the pine tree produce the wind borne pollen that is released in the late spring covering and fertilizing the temporarily opened female cones below, as well as covering cars and parking lots and lakes and anything else nearby.

Fourth, pine trees tend to grow tall with straight trunks and limbs mostly higher in the tree in older trees. White pines tend to keep their lower limbs the longest, and the limbs on a white pine tend to come out from the trunk in whorls or 5-6 branches.

Fifth, pines do not like shade. The are usually first to invade an abandoned field, although in our part of the Piedmont many deciduous trees are quick to invade abandoned fields as well. Eventually over the course of a hundred years or more pines will become less dominant and hardwoods like oak and hickory more dominant in a forest. Being sun loving, pines and are found more on sunny south facing slopes than shady north facing slopes. A walk around Lake Brandt will make that point clear enough.

There are many evergreen trees that have needles and cones that grow in Guilford County that are not pines, such as firs, hemlocks, and spruces. These are not only shaped differently as trees (more like “Christmas trees”), but have different kinds of needles and cones.

Hemlocks and firs have short flattened needles typically white underneath that grow singly out from the stems, usually along a flattened plane. They have small cones. The needles of spruce are four sided and grow all around the twig, that is, do not grow out in a flat spray from the twigs. Junipers, particularly the very common native “red cedar” have scale like leaves or needles, commonly grow on fence rows, and have a very bushy look, even in older specimens.

The four major pine species of pine tree in Guilford County in estimated order of frequency are Virginia Pine, Short Leaf Pine, White Pine, and Loblolly Pine. On average there are more Shortleaf and Loblolly pines in the southeastern part of the county where the elevation is lower and it is a bit warmer, and more Virginia and White pine in the northwestern part of the county.

Photo of the Day - September 17, 2007 - Looking Up Into a Shortleaf Pine, Fisher Park

Though I took this picture in Fisher Park, this shows well the way my world looked as I grew up in Columbia SC. As I have often said, I grew up looking at the Carolina blue sky (that is, when it wasn't a hazy grey summer sky) through the limbs of tall pine trees, mostly Loblolly, Short Leaf, and Long Leaf pines. I'm glad we have several good stands of "real" pines here, though not nearly as many as in the drier sandy soil of hot Columbia. It's hard for me to think of Scotch and Virginia Pines as "real" pines - they're kind of wimpy to me. Fisher Park has a lot of nice trees - it's our prettiest park I think.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rachel: A Life Remembered

Today, September 16, 2007, is my little sister Mary's 48th birthday. Mary is the youngest of the four Gillespie children; the rest of us have turned 50 already. It's your turn next little sis! Happy birthday Mary.

September 16 was also the birthday of Mary's first child, her daughter Rachel Elizabeth Johnson. I would like to report that today is Rachel's 23rd birthday, but I cannot.

On February 9, 1987, at the young age of 2 1/2 years old, Rachel died quickly and unexpectedly from an overwhelming bacterial infection that mimicked the flu, invaded her organs, and caused her little body to just shut down. I still feel a sense of anxiety and dread as I remember that phone call received in the middle of a school day as I was teaching at a local school then.

It is impossible to think of Mary's birthday without thinking of Rachel. What would Rachel have been like today? It's hard not to imagine.

Rachel's short life touched many people, and deeply impacted everyone in my family. She was not only Mary and Sandy Johnson's first child. She was my parent's first grandchild, and the very special apple of their eye. She preceded my own first daughter Shannon into this world be a mere four weeks. Since we lived in Columbia at the time, there are lots of pictures of Rachel and Shannon together

Rachel was a fun and delightful and curious child. She learned to walk a little later than some, but she was a regular speedboat crawling. She could have won a crawling race if there had been one. When my daughter started to walk, somewhat early, and often rather wobbily, Rachel would crawl into her like a bowling ball into pins. It was funny. And then when Rachel began to walk, she was a speedy one at that too!

We all miss Rachel, and wish her memory to live on the the lives of the people who knew her, and maybe in some who did not.

I dedicate a set of photographs on my Flickr site to Rachel's memory. Please feel free to look at it, and ponder the fragility of life, and the blessing and good that even a short life can bring into this often hard and cruel world.

The world was a brighter place with Rachel in it. It is a brighter place with her memory still alive in it. Even as a little child she seemed to have real and vital and lively faith. She loved to sing. I cannot sing Holy Holy Holy without thought of her little voice singing that hymn. We all loved you, and miss you, Rachel.

Mary, I know this day can be hard, and may the Lord bless you with richness of memory, even as we all remember not just Rachel, but you on this day, your birthday. Happy Birthday sis!

Brother

Friday, September 14, 2007

Persimmon On the Brain

Last evening I was at some friends’ house helping look after their kids while they attended a funeral. I was walking around in the front yard with one of their sons, and I asked him if their persimmon tree was producing yet. He said yes, and we went over to take a look. Wow – a bumper crop, and many already on the ground. I picked one up, and with that mix of anticipation and dread that accompanies biting into a persimmon, I put a slit in the skin and sucked out enough for a taste, which was sweet, and then I ate the whole thing, skin and seed excepted. I don’t know if the dry weather has caused the persimmon tree to convert the fruit to sugar more than usual, but boy was that persimmon good!

Growing up in Columbia I was blessed to have a large and very productive persimmon tree on the edge of the woods just up from my house. I learned over time how and when to eat persimmons. There are few things as tasty as a sweet ripe persimmon, and few things as awful as a bitter one. A bad or unripe persimmon can create more facial contortions than you are aware you an make. A good persimmon can make you smile with joy.

Once I got used to the fact that a persimmon had to be almost mush to be good to eat, which was kind of gross, I made it a habit every fall to visit that tree many times. Once I even got my mom to make a persimmon cobbler.

I miss the taste. It is quite unique - nothing like it really. And there is a certain fun that goes with the risk of eating persimmon. Sometimes you think you’ve got a sweet one, and then you open up the fruit and suck out the mushy insides (staying away from the skin and seeds), expecting this wonderful tangy sweetness, and instead it feels like your mouth is swelling up from the bitterness, and no matter how much you spit, the taste stays there all day.

Persimmons are rather nondescript straight up smallish trees. Their most distinguishing feature is perhaps their bark – very alligator in nature with very dark small squarish blocks. The bark looks much like a dark dogwood, though the tree is taller, the trunk bigger, and the leaves longer and narrower, and opposite with no teeth. The bark can also be confused with the black gum, though that tree has leaves more like a dogwood and also grows much taller, with its own little blackish fruits. Its bark, though sometimes dark and blocked, is more irregular, and may well be more furrowed. I’m quite fond of the black gum tree. My friend with the persimmon is fortunate to have a black gum right next to it!

Persimmons can grow in various places, on a dry hillside, in an open field, or as an under story tree in a mature forest. They seem not to be terribly picky and take to bad soils fairly well.

Their fruits have long been eaten by man and beast. They were made into cakes of various sorts by our native forbears. Early colonists made persimmon cakes as well as puddings. And to the animals of the forest the persimmon is a favorite. If one is inclined to look, one can find persimmon seeds in the scat of most of our common woods mammals, as well as many birds. Possums love them. If you like having possums around, plant some persimmon trees! Dogs also tend to like persimmons, and seem to be able to discern which ones are good to eat.

Persimmon wood is exceptionally hard and heavy, and was used in great amounts in the hey day of the textile industry as shuttles for the looms. It was a very valuable wood and was thus logged heavily, about everywhere it could be found, and so truly old large persimmons are hard to find today.

Most persimmons you see these days are smallish trees, maybe 30-40 feet. They can get much taller – up to 120 or so feet. The 2005 Guilford County treasure tree program identified a persimmon in Jamestown at 37 feet high and 8 inches in diameter as our county’s biggest, but there have to be bigger ones than that around. Anyway, I’m in a persimmon eating mood, so if you know of any good fruit bearing trees, give me a shout.