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Friday, August 31, 2007

September

I’ve always loved September.

I even like the name of it, how it rolls off the tongue.

I think I love those first hints of fall even more than fall itself, you know, that breeze that carries a different smell, air that seems a bit drier, and a touch a coolness unexpectedly on a Saturday morning.

I love the pennant races in baseball, and the hoopla surrounding the new football season.

I like the woods in September. There is always so much going on in the world of nature in September as plants and bugs and other creatures start to get ready for the coming winter.

I probably like September more now that I don’t have to “go back to school” as in my early years. That always kind of stunk!

I dig equinoxes, and September has one, the autumnal equinox, when the sun rises true east and sets true west, the first official day of fall.

I like gardens in September, the blooming of the late season flowers, so many plants going to seed, brave butterflies passing through or laying eggs, the beginning of the return to the earth of that season’s growth.

I like the poem “thirty days hath September…”

I like the stubble of fields harvested.

There are some September poems I have collected over the years. Here is the first stanza of Wordsworth’s "September, 1819":

Departing summer hath assumed
aspect tenderly illumed,
The gentlest look of spring;
That calls from yonder leafy shade
Unfaded, yet prepared to fade,
A timely carolling.

John Updike published a calendar for children, each month with a short poem. Here is the poem for September:

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Chrysanthemums.
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

We’ve had much trouble of late in September – Katrina and 9/11 come to mind, yet September seems to be a quiet month overall, one that sort of passes with little notice. It is sort of an in between month, tucked between its bigger sisters of August and October.

For Iris Dement, September in its quiet unassuming passing reminds her of the quiet passing of her life:

My life, it don't count for nothing.
When I look at this world, I feel so small.
My life, it's only a season:
A passing September that no one will recall.

OK, that’s a bit of a downer.

The change of the season from summer to fall, and from fall to winder, used to make me sad. It doesn’t anymore.

I like September. You won’t need to wake me up when September comes, I’ll be awake already.

Photo of the Day - Friday, August 31, 2007 - Looking Glass Falls



Ahhh, the thought of water...My daughter Heather (a senior now at Chapel Hill) did a road trip over Spring Break this year, mostly following the Blue Ridge Parkway, but taking detours here and there. The western end of the Parkway was closed so we had to get off, and soon enough found ourselves in my old stomping grounds from my Clemson days. I always loved these falls.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Said, She Said

I said: "If I am prone to any consistent error of judgment it is the error of over estimating my ability to pull something off."

She said: "I don't think so."

I reply: "There seems to hover around the edges of my life this sense of promise not realized. This has been there for a along time, going way back. I can’t blame my parents for this – they were very supportive. They may have been overly supportive; I certainly did not get much guidance from them. I’ve tended to make good first impressions in my life, only to disappoint later. I convey a sense that there are deep waters flowing, and people discover there is less to me than first suspected. I know I disappoint myself. I think that I did not get an education in keeping with my ability, and am much more ignorant than my apparent native intelligence suggests (emphasis on "apparent"). But back to the point. There are some who think I don’t do enough, am not adventuresome enough, don’t try enough things. To them, my error is in settling, in underestimating my ability. But I think their suspicions underscore the point I was making. Whether it be lack of discipline, lack of organization, lack of education, lack of energy, or presence of headaches, I really do tend to over commit, to promise more than I can fulfill. I've done this so many times I am wise enough to it at this point.

Often life seems a matter of finding that realistic balance between all the varying duties and responsibilities and interests – and somehow allowing enough margin in life to not be always on the run, and finding a day to day pattern that maximizes the potential that is there, whatever that may be. It's hard to do a good job in every area of life all the time. I used to express the rather cynical view that life was a matter of choosing who would be mad at you at any given point. But I'd rather look at the problem as one of wisdom and balance now.

Speaking of, I think that there is much wisdom in the age old Jewish notion of Sabbath. Sabbath suggests a rhythm of life that we’re made as creatures to follow. Add to that the natural rhythms of night and day, of wake and sleep, and work and rest, and we have patterns emerge with which we can live in sync - or not. That is what I seek for myself, a consistent pattern of daily and weekly life that allows for both productivity and reflection. I’m not there yet, but getting closer I hope.

Photo of the Day - August 30, 2007 - Forest and Falls, Outside Vancouver

I love the textures of the tree branches and needles in this picture. Somebody told me it looked like trees peeing!

Reasonable Doubt

Another interesting article about the science and politics of global warming.

One of the more interesting things I have experienced in the last year is the scorn sent my way by fellow environmentalists whenever I express doubts about the science of global warming, particular as to the role of man in whatever warming we may experience, and the exact impact of that warming. I recently read a long article by a leading European climatologist about the role of clouds, and how cloud impact has not been factored into most studies. I also have expressed concern that all the hype about global warming will in the end be bad for the environment, because people will see in time that the the science is not clear, and will be inclined to reject many initiatives that we need to take for the sake of clean air and water, habitat preservation, alternative fuels, and energy and resource conservation. I am passionate about these things and do not wish to see them come to ruin from a backlash to outlandish documentaries.

See also past reflections on this matter here and my response to Laurie at the end of the comment thread here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Still Hope for Haw River State Park?

I had thought that the issue of the development and golf course next to the Haw River State Park Environmental Center at The Summit was a done deal, so it was with some relief that I read Ed Cone's reference to the matter in his blog today. Ed references an alert put out by Citizens of Haw River Park. Apparently there is further opportunity to make our thoughts and views known to our "never saw a development they didn't like" County Commissioners. I plan to do that, and will be writing the Citizens group to ask how best to do it.

We need another golf course like we need a hole in our head. We have opportunity to have a very real and significant State Park right here in our own county, protecting one of the few remaining undeveloped river and creek basins we have left, a Park which will bring people from all around to our county. The hope and plan was that the state would be able to purchase easements upriver and up creek from The Summit and from the confluence of the Haw River and Mears Fork, eventually having a "Y" shaped park snaking along the river and creek and their bluffs, providing hiking trails and habitat for ever diminishing wildlife, and further protection for the water draining into Mears Fork and the Haw River.

But no, somebody has a burr up his butt about problems with the golf course down the street, and so we have to have yet another affluent exurban development with fancy golf course. And oh how familiar the rationilizations are - these are very nice developers, and they plan to be sensitive to the river front, and provide a buffer, and if don't allow this very nice group of developers to have their golf course we may end up with something much worse. Oh dear!

Well, no. We can avoid ending up with something much worse. The state and the county and supporters of the park can put forth the money to buy either the necessary easements or to buy the land outright, even through eminent domain of necessary. This is a State Park we're talking about, not a mall.

This development will truncate and castrate the Haw River State Park. It ruins it for the most part. The land in question is a large parcel just up stream from the Summit Environmental Center at Haw River State Park, and separates that Center from the confluence of the Haw River and Mears Fork just up river. For the Park to lose opportunity to buy easements or even buy much of that land will ruin the Park site plan, and chop up the whole Park idea.

So here are the options: A State Park or more big houses for rich people? A State Park or yet another golf course?

You can read more about the Haw River State Park here.

John Young hits the nail on the head in his article in todays News and Record.

An Inconvenient Fact Explored

An interesting take on Leonardo DiCaprio's movie "The Eleventh Hour" and the role of forests and trees in concentrating and sequestering carbon dioxide - in today's Vancouver Sun (I miss Vancouver).

Gay Republicans, A Reprise

I know, I know, Sen. Larry Craig is not gay. He said so, three times. And of course he did NOT do what he plead guilty to have done. Right. I guess we will all be treated to ongoing discussions and reports of what did or did not happen in that airport bathroom.

Which has reminded me of a similar story last year regarding an evangelical leader caught engaging in certain extra marital trysts with young men. It was so much fun watching all the writhing and hand wringing and personal agony over that matter it seems time to do it again.

And so, I remembered something I wrote last October. The situation was different, but I wish to offer a reprise of comments made then regarding men who are either gay and Republican, or participating in some homosexual activities, and Republican.

These men have varied backgrounds. Many are married and thus cheating on their wives. I think that that is an issue of some significance, but what are we doing to “out” cheating heterosexuals, Republican or Democrat, or cheating by ostensibly monogamous gay partners?

It seems that to many people it is just about impossible to be a gay Republican with any integrity. I do not agree, and I am neither gay nor a Republican.

There is a basic principle that many gay men and women themselves are anxious to establish – and that is that gay people are people too. OK, obvious point. But there is nothing inherent to being gay that would lean one away from a conservative political philosophy. Or is there a liberal gene that goes with the gay gene? Thinking of classic conservative principles I see no reason why a gay person could not be persuaded of these as much as a non gay person. Granted, the Republican party is mushy on those principles these days, but why could a gay person not lean toward less government, more state’s rights, protection of unborn children, a stronger military, educational vouchers, etc.

So, what if a gay person finds himself to be for the most part in keeping with a party that is politically conservative. So what? I would think some gay people like Italian food and some like Mexican food.

But what to do given that the Republican Party is opposed to the “gay agenda.” What is a gay Republican to do? I would think that he or she) has several options.

First, he may just take the bad with the good, live with the dilemma, and for the sake of his standing and influence amongst conservatives, just not focus much attention on the issues important to the gay lobby. He may well be open about being gay, work toward the other issues consistent with his conservative values, but just not actively support anti gay rights initiatives.

Second, he may, despite his private predilections, actually oppose gay marriage. It is quite possible that a person would see as not in the public interest things that are true about himself. Rather than being a sign of some deep troubling psychological pathology, this might simply be good sense. I am sure that there are a lot of straight men (let’s say they are not married) who do not think cohabitation laws are in the public interest, yet they may be promiscuous rascals. It does not go without saying that one’s private predilections should form the basis of one’s public policy. I wonder what JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. would have to say about that.

Third, he may, like many other people on a thousand issues, merely be a hypocrite. Well, if we’re outing hypocrites, let’s get busy and clean out the majority of the people who are in office. We could start with environmentalists, who seldom live daily lives consistent with their own public policy positions. We might start with Al Gore and John Edwards and go from there. Hypocrisy stinks, but it is an equal opportunity employer. I would imagine that many avid vocal supporters of gay marriage and gay monogamy are themselves promiscuous. We can throw them out too.

I don’t like hypocrisy, in myself, or in others, but let’s apply the hypocrisy ruler equally across the board. I don’t see that happening.

Fourth, related but slightly different from the first point, a gay Republican may feel that he has no future in the system if he is outed, so he leads a double life. That is, he may be a true conservative, yet may otherwise wish for more liberal marriage laws, but he knows that it won’t get him far in the party and there are so many other things that he is passionate about he just keeps his mouth shut. He is not really allowed by the system to vote his conscience. Well, welcome to politics. Is this not the case time and time again for so many people regarding so many issues? I would wish more politicians were free to buck the party line and vote their conscience on a number of issues.

Fifth and finally, the man may be cheating on a wife, advocating anti gay marriage in public meetings, and holding himself up as a standard bearer of traditional values, yet practice a gay lifestyle. This is a higher level of hypocrisy, because it both involves cheating on a vow and making oneself out to be what one certainly is not.

But I ask, do we really care about cheating and high level hypocrisy per se, across the board? Do gay rights advocates care about these same issues as perhaps may involve themselves in other respects, or may involve other more liberal politicians on other issues? Do heterosexual partisan conservatives not delight to dig up dirt on their Democratic opponents?

I'd like to see the hypocrisy standard applied evenly across the board if it is to be applied, and less attention given to people's private sex lives generally, whether day or straight, Democrat or Republican.

Photo of the Day - August 29, 2007 - Today's Fifty Year Olds in 1963



Here are today's 50 year olds as five or six year olds, myself included, at Saint Michael's Episcopal Church Kindergarten (or pre-school), Bridgewood Road, Columbia, SC, 1963. I love the clothes, the hairdo's, and the general goofiness of this picture. It's a great slice of life from a bygone era. I was fortunate that my Kindergarten class was only a couple of hundred yards away. My street was windy and hilly, and round the turn and up the hill was St. Michael's Episcopal Church. I thought I was really big stuff because I rode my bike to kindergarten! The same church also had several acres of "woods" that are still not developed, and which had a significant impact on my childhood - digging foxholes, climbing trees, hammering in two-by-four steps way up to the first limbs of very tall pines, digging tunnels, holding bike races, having various games of hide and seek and war, constructing paths for sledding, and so forth. The church also had a large field for baseball and tackle football games, and by the time I was in about middle school, had put in a full court slab of concrete and two sturdy basketball goals. I was really very fortunate. And of course there was the play ground, always open to the neighborhood kids.

Pierre Neuffer, bottom left, was probably my best friend in first and second grade. Most folks called him "Pete" but I always called him "Pierre." He died during high school while attending Cardinal Newman High School. He was a great guy and good athlete. We played on the same pony league baseball team. Win Williams is next to him and I think Lyn Floyd behind him. I see Ed Salters and David Dupree (I think) on the back row. Bob Moore is front row second from right. That's me third row back, third from right. Maybe the last time I buttoned the top button of a shirt!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Photo of the Day - August 28, 2007 - Black Eyed Susans, from Below

Took this a few weeks ago in my backyard. Should have used flash I think to draw out the flower petals, but I like the perspective.

Back in Town, Egg on Face

Sometimes you do or try out what seems to be a good thing, but it’s really not the right time for it, or the right place.

After my big announcement of my plans to take the two classes at NC State, and then starting, it seems that one thing after another has been poking at me to suggest that maybe I had miscalculated. If I am prone to any consistent error of judgment it is the error of over estimating my ability to pull something off. And I have been under a dark cloud for almost a week that I was making a mistake, and today going to Raleigh I just had this overwhelming sense that it wasn’t the right thing for now, or not the right place for the right thing perhaps. I was already feeling an adverse effect on my ability to be the kind of pastor I am called to be, there being various scheduling pressures or conflicts here brought on by the class schedule there. I am not good at being in two places so to speak; I tend to prefer being wholly invested in one place, and if I do pursue classes of some sort at some time I should do that where I live and pastor. But even my shorter term goals of getting in shape and the goal of starting to put together plans for the Creation Care association, not to mention being able to see and meet with people when needed, and really putting my heart into the ministry of the Word and Prayer – all that seemed, in practice, once I jumped in a little, to be actually hindered by my plan more than I had thought it would be. And it was weird last Thursday walking round I kept thinking, all these young people and I would love to get to know them, and then I kept thinking of UNCG and wishing I were there so relationships could develop perhaps. But I will have to say, the folks at State were very very kind and helpful.

Anyway, I have withdrawn. I get my money back, and no great harm but the time spent and the embarrassment I feel. But coming back to town today I had such a sense of relief, and when I saw the signs for Greensboro, and UNCG, and A&T, etc., I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, wanting to kiss the signs and familiar everyday things.

I feel a bit like an idiot. The broader goals are the same; the particulars will have to be different. As someone said, quoting their father, “Sometimes the best advance is a hasty retreat.” I guess that applies to me right now. I am looking forward very much to preaching through Luke, to time with my congregation, to having fun with you blogger folks, finding a daily pattern that is healthy and whole. and a single minded life here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Are Journalists Journalists?

The controversy regarding Professor Skube and his comments about blogging made it into our own local paper today. I think Skube is both right and wrong. I mean, most bloggers, such as myself are not journalists. And many bloggers are set in opinions from which they deviate very little. There is much rancor ill will and petty swiping of insults. But the question I have is not so much whether bloggers are journalists, but whether journalists are journalists.

The sentence above, “many bloggers are set in opinions from which they deviate very little” could just as well be applied to most journalists I read. Adding weeks and weeks of “research” and “fact checking” and whatever else are the standards of mainstream journalism to an immoveable position may actually make the result more and not less devoid of truth, and more dangerous, in that it simply lends an appearance of credibility to the deeply held bias.

The vast majority of journalists vote democratic and are on the left side of the political spectrum here in the US. Within their own inner ring I am sure they feel very objective. And the fact that there is always somebody more liberal than a given journalist does not help really. It lends a false sense of balance. Just because someone is to the left of you doesn’t mean you’re in the middle.

For me, journalism should be about a passion for truth, whether that truth fits with preconceived positions or not. Perhaps amidst the cacophony of talk radio, blogging, Fox News and the like, all of which exist and thrive to some degree due to the bias of traditional journalism, maybe people are finding something more like a real balance. But maybe not. They may just be getting hardened in their preset positions, whether right or left leaning, and whatever truth is may be receding at an even faster clip.

But in the end I don’t think so. This chaotic mess of voices from all sides probably gets us closer to a balanced understanding of things, well, if we can just listen.

Photo of the Day - August 24, 2007 - An Old Baseball Picture

Maurice Sanders, my Grandfather (my mother's father), on Left app. 1907, Sherman Texas. This is a great period picture, shared with me by my uncle, and last surviving child of Maurice Sanders, Karl Sanders, of Sherman Texas. As a lover of the game of baseball I find this picture extremely delightful.

View my Flickr photostream here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Going Back to School

I don’t know if it was getting all the mailers from AARP (in anticipation of my 50th birthday I presume), reading the article in Time Magazine about people working into their 100’s, reading “The Earth is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, or just listening to the clock ticking inside me, but I have been moved to think about some unfinished business of late, and preparing myself for a calling I sense upon me, and for employment for, you know, when I get old!

So, I am taking a couple of classes this term in Plant Science – at NC State – starting tomorrow.

There are several strands of motivation…

First, I have a crummy BS degree in Biology with so many obvious holes I wouldn’t give myself a second look if I were looking at my transcript. I have been wanting to fill in those holes for 30 years. And, well, I’m just out of date.

Second, as I have written before, I have sense of calling upon my life to tend to the care God’s creation. There are some folks in the community motivated to start a non profit local Christian environmental association. We’re working on the details – the vision and mission – though that may take a little while. Upgrading my credentials will give me more credibility in that area as well as more exposure to people involved in these things from State, Chapel Hill, and Duke

Third, filling up some of the holes in my knowledge will help me as I seek to frame better some of the writing projects that have been rattling around in my head for years. I still want to write that “Natural History of Guilford County”!

Fourth, as I begin moving into second half of my century :), I want to be ready to supplement my income, or do a different thing down the road when I’m, you know, older. Building upon what I started doing a long time ago seemed to be the best approach.

Why NC State? Because of all the universities anywhere near they have been the most receptive and they have the program that best fits my background and goals.

Basically I will leave about 7:30 or 7:45 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get back about the same time PM. I’ve tested the route – I’ll be taking 421 to 64 to I-440 right into the heart of the campus. I have two classes – one from 10AM to 1PM and the other from 4:30AM to 5:45PM.

It is interesting…I can already feel the cobwebs starting to come off my brain as I get ready. Yes, I think intellectually and physically I have been in a rut for a while, just due to following the same pattern day to day for 14 years. It’s amazing how turning on another part of the brain gives light to the rest! I already feel more creative and mentally energetic.

As a Christian pastor working for the most part with professing Christian people in a Christian church setting, the truth is, I can lose touch with what life looks like and feels like for people who are not professing Christians – whether they are simply not religious or whether they are of different faiths. I’m kind of looking forward to rubbing shoulders with a broader diversity of people again. Just might make me a better person, and better Christian.

Yes, this means I will be working later on the other days and more on Saturdays and in the evenings. I watch too much TV anyway. But I plan to be there with my “24” compatriots in January!

This is kind of an experiment. We’ll see how it goes. If it does not seem to work out well for me or for the church I pastor I won’t do it again. It’s a one term experiment.

I think it will be fun, and definitely fun-gal (one of the courses is The Kingdom of the Fungi!)

For those that got this far, thank you for reading this post and bearing with my verbosity. Maybe jumping back into the world of scientifically concise descriptions will cure me of that problem a little!

Joel

Photo of the Day - August 22, 2007 - Two Zinnias


I am feeling nostalgic for wetter summers when my garden looked better. This year's zinnia's got a late start and have struggled with the heat and dryness. So, I thought I'd post a photo from our butterfly garden from two summers ago. This is a fresh scan of a picture from the summer of 2005.

When I was a kid my grandmother "Nanny" got me interested in gardening. You can see very early photos of her amazing garden here. I started collecting and planting seeds from Nanny's plants, grafting camellias, and rooting azaleas from a young age. I think the first seeds I bought for myself were four o'clocks, which started a life long love of those flowers. They seemed to do better in Columbia than they do here. I think the next flower seeds I planted as a kid were zinnias. It was fun to collect seeds of both four o'clocks and zinnias and save them to the next season. I stored them in those little baby Dixie cups! Now I let the birds, mostly the goldfinches, eat the zinnia seeds, and the four o'clock seeds just fall as they may.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Michael Vick Is Getting Off Way Too Easily

I don’t know what I think of the notion of animal rights. The word “rights” s generally used is full of legal ramifications and implies acknowledgment of personhood. “Rights” are those freedoms and privileges granted to persons in a legal document, such as a constitution.

In this sense animals don’t have rights, per se, nor should they. Nevertheless I believe that animals are given a certain rightful status in the created order. They have a dignity by virtue of being made by God, and by virtue to the place they are given in the web of interdependent life. For that matter so do plants. Each thing is to be treated in keeping with the dignity it is given by its Creator.

By all accounts the Creator has a special place for his creatures. They are celebrated over and over in the Bible. As he looked upon the world teeming with his fruitful creatures he said that it was good.

Human beings have a unique place being created in the image of God. There is a dignity associated with that image bearing that does not devolve onto the other creatures.

Nevertheless human beings are given the special task of caring for creation, and for its creatures. The idea of dominion must be stripped of all human greed, perversion, violence, selfishness, and exploitation before we can arrive at its real meaning biblically speaking. We get a glimpse of what this unspoiled dominion looks like in Genesis two as God brings the various beasts before Adam and he names them. Naming is an aspect of dominion. The creatures in Genesis 2 are treated with the utmost honor and respect and dignity.

According to the biblical portrayal, it was only after the fall of man that both man and beasts were given “permission” to take of animal life for food, for the sake of survival in a broken and difficult world. I don’t mention that to bring up arguments about sin and fall, or about the biblical flood – only to affirm that it was only after the fall that dominion came to include the possibility of killing, and that for the sake of survival; (and perhaps sacrifice in worship, ala Abel). Killing for food and the temporally temporary killing for sacrifice resulted from sin and fall. Christians believe that the sacrificial role of killing of animals has been superseded by the sacrifice of Christ.

Even given the fall there is no place within dominion for wanton violence against animals. Indeed, human beings were made to be the protectors of the animal world. In time our superior intellectual capacities (combined sadly with our deep sinfulness) would give us the edge over the beasts, and the opportunity to exploit them as we choose. But such exploitation, out of greed, perversion, or love of violence, is simply not compatible with our calling to exercise dominion over God’s good creation, including its creatures.

There is something especially perverse about the mistreatment of that which is weaker, that which we were supposed to protect and care for, whether we are talking about children, human beings in a weakened and exploitable state, or animals. This is why we rightly react so viscerally to the use of animals such as dogs in "sports" like dogfighting, whereby we, ostensibly their protectors, kill the weaker, injured, or non competitive ones. It is simply a gross and obscene offense against creation, against God, against the rightful place these creatures are to have in our hearts, and against our basic calling as human beings.

For that reason I am somewhat dismayed that Michael Vick is going to get a break due to cutting a deal with prosecutors. For once I find myself agreeing more or less with PETA. He is getting off way too easily.

To the extent that dog fighting, cock fighting, or other forms of abuse of animals is pervasive in our culture, it reveals how sick and messed up and broken we truly are, and how bankrupt segments of our culture have become.

Just because the abuse of human beings is worse still does not make this offense against nature, good, and God any less horrible. Michael Vick ought to go away for a very long time, or be sentenced to years and years of reparations and community service aimed at the improvement of the life of those creatures he has so violently and viciously abused.

He is getting off way too easily if you ask me.

Health Care Blues

I read today in a post from the News and Record blog, from a Mr. Stephen van Vuuren, the following about the health care issue. I think it is very instructive.

“There is no greater issue of security in America then the health of our people. Creating a system where every person is guaranteed complete health and well-being, free and accessible, is the most important issue facing our nation today.”

I would like to respond in some detail to the particulars, but before I do I would like to address the assumption that lies behind this and many other statements about health care.

Human beings live in a fallen world. Part of this fallenness is the experience and reality of the natural decay and degeneration of all biological organisms. Our bodies fail in so many ways, from breakdowns within and assaults from without. This decay always and inevitably results in senescence, or death. Usually this process involves pain and great difficulty. Plus, death results, for the survivors, in deep and profound loss. It is the biggest enemy we have as persons.

Because advances in modern medicine involving both tests, procedures, and medication, we have been able, thankfully, to forestall this process for many, and alleviate the physical pain of it for others. But we have also developed certain expectations and hopes. The expectation and hope is that we will not be brought low by this process. We hate pain and loss. We want out of that bargain.

But so many of the tests, procedures, and medications that can help us are horribly expensive. We want to blame someone for this – blame the greed of pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, and doctors. But the truth is that this stuff IS expensive. And the terrible and difficult truth is that we cannot make good health for everyone affordable and accessible. It is simply impossible. We can either resign ourselves to a common lot of mediocre health care for all, or to inequalities in health care between some people and others.

The basic longing expressed in Mr. van Vuuren’s letter is a phantasm, a dream, perhaps one we understand and relate to, but a dream nonetheless. It is beyond utopian.

This itself becomes a problem - that what we want is impossible – individually and societally. Until that sinks in there will be no real progress in health care discussions.

Above and beyond what I have said already, I would take issue with several assumptions or comments in Mr. van Vuuren’s short letter.

First, there are issues of security greater than the health of the American people. Nuclear holocaust might be one. Protection against massive terrorism attacks might be another. I would venture to say that a rigorous education of a semi healthy population may also be a greater security risk. American people, even in days when they died much younger and knew much more pain, knew also that there were greater security issues than health. And they gave their lives accordingly.

Second, there is no system that can guarantee complete health and well being. OK, let me assume that this statement is hyberbolic. Complete health is beyond our reach no matter what we do, but even almost-complete health is impossibly non affordable. And of course, true health and well being is a matter that goes way beyond our physical circumstances.

Third, the idea that any such system is free is just a fantasy. I assume by "free" that this is an allusion to universal and governmentally provided health care. Well, that is certainly not free. The total increase in taxes required to provide such a guarantee would be massively expensive for everyone, not just “the rich.” And if the government is running it it would likely be much more expensive than what we have now.

I agree that this issue is crucial. It is crucial for several reasons. It is crucial because health is indeed important. It is crucial because utopian dreams cannot provide the basis of our governance of ourselves. It is crucial because we have to decide whether we want equally mediocre health care for all or inequality in health care based on income. The problem with the latter “choice” is that those people with means will always have access to immediate health care not available to everyone else. Just go to Canada for a while and you will see that. The wealthy will not wait months and months for an important procedure: they will just head down to the United States and get it done here. So equal mediocre health care is also an impossibility. Such socialist notions of equality are a phantom – there will always be those “more equal than others.”

But inequalities are hard to swallow, especially when what we need to be better and to feel better may be closed off to us yet available to another. This inequality itself breeds much discouragement and disillusionment and envy and hatred, and drives much political debate.

So I agree that the issue is very significant. It is significant in my personal life. It is significant for us as neighbors. It is significant for us as a culture. It is hugely complex and to a great extent intractable. But we must continue to seek ways to make more health care accessible to more people at less cost. We are looking at a gradual process, working toward a goal which itself is not attainable. Sort of like how I look at my life as a Christian.

Somehow it seems to me that we need to step back and recognize the impossibility of the goal and the anxieties, fears, and even unrealistic expectations we carry as human persons into this debate. For really this issue cuts to the core of our predicament as human beings. This debate is not just about health care; it is about death itself; the dark specter that hovers ruthlessly over our lives.

Somehow we have to simultaneously strive with much earnestness together toward greater equality and accessibility, while at the same time reminding ourselves that that which we most desire is not to be had. And we do this not in some detached philosophical way, but in a way whereby we let ourselves be truly touched by the human pain around us; desiring and seeking to alleviate it; not exploiting it for the sake of our political goals. And I think we ought to demonize others less. Less demagoguery would help a lot in this debate.

At the core of it “complete health and well-being” is much more than a health care issue, or a political issue. It is, in the end, a religious issue. It is the goal of most all the great religions; and certainly mine. How it comes to be attained, well, we discuss and debate that at a religious level too.

Let us each and all pray for incremental steps in the right direction, improvements that will touch the lives of many people, while also pray for that great idea that we have not thought of yet, that idea that can help us reach a semblance of the goal in this life expressed by Mr. van Vuuren.

I appreciate his letter.

Joel Gillespie

Photo of the Day - August 20, 2007 - "Nanny" as a Young Lady - Mid 1920's



My grandmother, "Nanny," as a fashionable young lady in the early to mid 1920's. She was then still "Mary Sue Andrews" of La Grange, Georgia, soon to be "Mary Sue Gillespie." I love the 1920's flapper style dress!

A Prayer/Blessing for the New School Year

Well, we have sent two daughters back to college, another starts 12th grade at Northwest next week, and we have just ordered curriculum for my 5th grade homeschooled daughter. Every school year I am reminded how time flies. The new school year is like, as Wikipedia says of Pink Floyd's "Time," "a memento mori describing the phenomenon in which time seems to pass more quickly as one ages."

It's always hard.

But here is my blessing for the new school year – it’s a prayer in the form of a blessing or benediction:

O Father…
May you keep our children safe from harm as they get to and from school each day by bus and by car
May you energize and excite our teachers for a new year of teaching, and give them a renewed love for their subjects, a love for their students, patience with central office edicts and low pay, and a renewed sense of their great calling
May you give the students a true love of learning new things in each of the areas they are called to study this year
May you moderate their homework so our students can get enough sleep
May you give wisdom and courage to the school board as it oversees the central office staff
May you give principles and assistant principals wisdom, strength, and energy to maintain order, motivate students and teachers, intervene rightly in crises, and address difficult issues each day
May you suppress gossip in the classroom and teacher’s lounges, and may you give our students respect for their teachers, and teachers for their principals
May you provide help for the overworked and underpaid throughout the system, particularly the support staff, and cause both students and teachers to show their appreciation for hard work done
May you protect each and every school from violence
May you suppress bullies of all kinds
May you give each student a growing and exciting sense of how you may use them and their gifts in serving others in this broken and fallen world
May you give those you are faltering, failing, and dropping out, new strength and vision to see a better future
May you cause students to reject drugs, sex, violence, and meanness and give help to those who are trapped in any of the above
May you help our guidance counselors, overwhelmed by so many students, have wisdom and strength to see and know and understand each person under their charge
May you give our superintendent every blessing of life, renewed purpose and vision, and primary concern for the students of Guilford County
May you call many new and talented young men and women into the great calling of teaching
Into Your hands I commit the school year, 2007/2008.
Amen

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cone Versus Blue Cross

OK, so I saw the full page ad today that the Cone Hospital Health System bought from the Rhino Times asking readers to call, e-mail, or send a “coupon” to the president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC. They want us to tell Blue Cross President and CEO Bob Greczyn to “negotiate a fair agreement with Moses Cone Health System." But I have to confess. I’m just not feeling sorry for Cone Hospital right now. And I feel like the Cone system is kind of blackmailing Blue Cross covered folk. Seems they are saying, “look, you help us charge you more or we will make life very inconvenient for you.” I never did like this city wide monopoly of health care. High Point Regional is looking better every day to me (well, except that I am covered by Blue Cross of South Carolina so I don’t even know if this spat applies to me). For me the consumer this situation seems like Wal-Mart telling me that I need to pressure HP to charge Wal-Mart less, or Wal-Mart will stop selling HP computers. Except that in this hypothetical case I can buy maybe a Dell or an E-Machine. When it comes to Greensboro hospitals there are no longer any options. Cone has a monopoly. So it seems to me that in this little spat between Blue Cross and Cone I should be pulling for Blue Cross. I mean, folks are always complaining about the cost of health care, and Blue Cross, by limiting the amount Cone can charge them (and us) for a procedure, is not only looking after their own interests, but looking after ours as well. Cone has always struck me as a little too money hungry. I mean, the few times we’ve really had to use the system it seemed the bill collectors were calling me before I even got home, and certainly before the bill had cleared the insurance company! And word is from my friends that getting money from Cone for services rendered to them is like pulling teeth, if I may use a medical metaphor, or maybe like extracting an appendix, or whatever. Help me out here people. Why should I be pulling for Cone? What am I missing?

Photo of the Day - August 17, 2007 - Five Amigos in New Hampshire

A bunch of college age friends on a summer New England camping/hiking trip.- me in the middle. Matt, the one on the left, died of a stroke about five years ago. Calvin, second from left, is living with his wife and kids in Asheville NC. Me, the one in the middle, am here in Greensboro NC. Skip, second to right - I don't know where Skip is. Bill, far right, Calvin's brother, is living with his wife and family in the Columbia SC area.

This was taken somewhere in New Hampshire, summer 1977.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Photo of the Day - August 15, 2007 - Lake Garibaldi from The Black Tusk

This picture is taken from the top of a volcanic core called The Black Tusk in British Columbia, looking almost straight south toward Lake Garibaldi, Mount Garibaldi, and "The Lions," two twin peaks in the small range on the north side of Vancouver, in the far distance. The trail head to The Tusk is about two hours north of Vancouver. You can see a picture of The Black Tusk from the trail here. You can see a picture of me atop The Black Tusk here. You can see a great view back toward Vancouver here. This trail is nine miles each way, with a 6000 foot elevation change. You can see the trail running along the knife-edge ridge in the picture above. To the left is a steep drop off to a glacier field. The last couple of hundred feet elevation-wise goes straight up through a kind of vertical tunnel in the core called "the chimney." You have to sort of shimmy up using leg pressure on the walls. It's really fun. To be honest, the last mile or so of this trail was very very hard. I was not in great shape and was not used to oxygen levels at 8000 feet, especially after walking eight miles already along with a mile elevation change. In the final ascent to The Tusk I thought my heart to was going to blow out of my chest. I contemplated stopping, but then decided I'd rather die right there than turn around (OK, stupid, I know), so I kept going, slowly. Once I got to the top I took a nap. After that I was so full of energy and adrenaline I ran most of the way down - laughing. It was fun running down the large field of volcanic rock - kind of more like a controlled slide or fall! I did the hike with the brother of a friend of mine - he was in better shape then I was! Oh, one other thing. On the way up a black bear with two cubs crossed the trail about 75 feet in front of us. At first just the adult bear appeared, and stood there staring at us, us staring back, and then I saw the cubs. It was way cool, but then I thought, "Oh my..." Thankfully Mrs. Bear decided we weren't a threat or worth her trouble and the three of them moved along. Whew!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Photo of the Day - August 13, 2007 - Clancey

Clancey 1971-1981
Columbia SC
My Buddy

Taken in my front yard, Columbia SC, about 1979. Clancey and I had all kinds of chase and capture games we played (with "rules" - for an Irish Setter he was pretty sharp!), and I would often collapse onto the ground and just hang out with him. He liked gnawing on pine cones - I love the "don't mess with my pine cone" expression!! This is a scan from a print. He was a great great pet, a great friend, and I will always miss him

See Flickr photostream here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Photo of the Day - August 11, 2007 - Yellow Zinnia


From our Zinnia Garden.

See my "Home and Garden" set here.

Joel

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Photo of the Day - Wednesday August 8, 2007 - Butterfly Bush Flower Cluster



From our butterfly garden.

Check out my Flickr photo stream here.

Ah, Feels Like Home

Highs between 95 and 100, humidity close to 100%, air not moving, hazy gray skies, feels like hitting a wall when you step outside - ahh, just like home! Oh Columbia, Columbia!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Photo of the Day - August 6, 2007 - Butterfly on Black Eyed Susans



Taken in my backyard butterfly garden.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joelgillespie/