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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.

Vancouver Winters


I didn't think I'd ever sigh and wish for something like a Vancouver winter, but today with the drizzle outside, and given how dry it is, I wish it would just keep doing this for a month - or four. Vancouver is glorious from mid July through October, and then the winter rains set in. Before too long there is interminable cold rain - often with the temperatures never leaving the thirties day or night - just a non stop drizzle. With the short days of winter there would be days when I would trudge the three blocks to the bus stop in the dark rain, take the hour bus ride to school, spend most of the day in the Regent College library, get back on the bus in the dark and rain and go home. Sometimes a cold front would pass through and sweep away the clouds, leaving a beautiful scene such as above. Sometimes it would even snow. And, interestingly, while it would be raining down below in the city, it's snowing about a about 2-3000 feet in the mountains north of the city, providing a base of snow 10 -15 feet for skiing there. Finally Spring hits in April or so, and the flowers come out, and it is beautiful again. Today I long for Vancouver winter. I didn't think I'd ever say that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Photo of the Day - September 13, 2007 - Three Brothers


"Mike, Bobby and Joe," as folks in Columbia would refer to us Gillespie brothers. This was taken last Thanksgiving in my brother Bobby's front yard, late in the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. Obviously somebody said something funny. Bobby's expression is priceless! So how come I'm the only one with hair? Oops, some hidden corner of the not yet transformed pagan in me just wished I hadn't said that!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Photo of the Day - September 12, 2007 - Remembering Last Autumn

This very nice autumn hickory is right on Elm Street, half a block south of Bessemer on the west side. I took this with a cheap little digital camera. It came out nicely. I couldn't get an angle without the wires, but then, this is a city tree, so may as well include the whole deal. I hope the drought won't leave us with little color this year. So many leaves are drying out and curling up already. Anyway, here is to falls past.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Don't Be Talking About My Wiki (or Translation Please)

I read the following on The Starry Dynamo's site. It sounds fascinating - AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SHE IS TALKING ABOUT :-) . Translation anyone? And I hate to ask, but, what is a wiki? I just want to know if I should be concerned about somebody talking about my wiki that way.

"I am one week out with my instance of MediaWiki on a WAMP stack and am surprised at how easy it is to manipulate the CSS and PHP. Particularly with CSS it is very easy to customize the look and feel of your wiki. I consider myself to have above average technical skills but was skeptical that I would be able to wade through the language. PHP looks so foreign, but made more sense the longer I stayed in there. I have been experimenting adding color, customizing the sidebar and adding extensions. There are two sites that are great examples of how MediaWiki can be customized."

Please Clouds, Bring Rain

Whether liberal or conservative, straight or gay, male or female, Tarheel or Blue Devil or Demon Deacon, white or black or neither -- I think we can all look up in the sky on a day like today and say or think something like "please clouds, bring rain!" I mean, that's something, right?

The Cost of Chaos

Applied Rationality has a good piece today on the cost of our ongoing presence in Iraq, including the ongoing costs even if we pull out in a reasonably quick but responsible fashion. He compares this expense to what we are spending in other areas. In his words:

“To provide some perspective about the size of the funds, the $116 billion that has been requested for Iraq in FY 2008 is larger than the combined budgets of all federally-funded education, training, and social service programs ($83 billion), energy programs ($1.4 billion), and community and regional development programs ($25 billion). Alternatively, it accounts for roughly half of the projected federal deficit for FY 2008.”

Apart from the fact that I think the federal government is terribly inefficient, arbitrary and borderline corrupt in spending large sums of money (e.g., post Katrina spending), it is hard not to imagine what amount of security and economic growth and energy independence could have been created by spending that amount of money in other ways – education, energy R&D, biotechnology, welfare to work programs, etc. And of course, knowing me, I am inclined to imagine how many endangered habitat could have been saved.

However, here is my concern. Are we accounting for the very possible if not probable costs to us of being in a position of having to re-enter the fray after all hell breaks loose in the region after we leave? I know that many would say that had we not gone in in the first place we wouldn’t have to think of the post withdrawal chaos. Well, maybe so, but we did, and we do. We made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. So has someone charted out the several possible post-withdrawal scenarios that could see us re-engaged in a different capacity, and what they each could possible also cost us? Could it be worse? I wonder. I just think we need to see that spelled out before we can make a rational assessment and evaluation of the real financial costs related to our ongoing current occupation of Iraq.

Photo of the Day - September 11, 2007 - A Red Rose on 9/11

My friend Sherb Naulty who lives up up in New Jersey is a seriously good photographer, and has had many shows of his photographs. You can see some of work at www.sherbnaulty.com/. He sent these to me because he knows I love pictures of flowers. I hope you will check out his site.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Photo of the Day - September 8, 2007 - Snow Laden Trees

Nostalgic for cold weather...Snow Laden Trees Lining Death Valley Parking Lot, 1977ish.

Can We Not Pull for and Hope for Success in Iraq?

Joe Guarino provides a link to an article by Kimberly Kagan of the Wall Street Journal, and review of that article on the site Captain’s Quarters. The gist of Kagan’s article seems to be the success of the surge – the surprising success.

From the multiplicity of the reports coming back from Iraq it seems to be that there are many reasons to be very cautiously optimistic. Is not the ideal outcome that the surge would be successful, and Iraq would be stabilized?

But, as things appear to me, there are many politicians and pundits who want the Iraq effort to fail, and there are those those who would paint an overly optimistic assessment. Once again, from where I sit, it seems that our own political divisions are making it hard for us to assess accurately the situation. yet there is enough testimony and apparently compelling evidence that there are good things happening - and that from people who are not Bush stooges - to think something is going right for a change.

It seems to me that we should all be hoping and praying that, despite all that has gone wrong, the tide will turn, and things will go right. It is certainly in the interest of the Iraqi people that things get better. It would also be in our armed forces interest, and in the interest of our national security and financial stability. It seems the only people who would lose if things were to get better are the Iranians, Al-Qaeda, and all those who politically need to see this fail in order to be or feel vindicated.

And regarding all the talk about the money being spent, yes, it’s astronomical. Yes, it could be used on other things. But I would like someone to paint for me a realistic scenario whereby our effort there fails, we pull out, the surrounding powers jump in , and the situation does not end up pulling us back in and under possibly very worse circumstances and into a broader and even more expensive war, because I just cannot see it.

I cannot understand what seems to me to be at least an appearance of a deep seated desire for this whole thing to fail. That just bothers and disturbs me very much.

And could we possibly lay off the Iraqi government just a little. Go back and read about our own national beginnings. There was enough division and intrigue to fill a hundred books – oh yeah, they’ve been written, and are being written. We are expecting the Iraqi people, with their multi religions and ethnicities, complex histories of deep seated distrust, including some who have killed and brutalized others, to sit down together and smoke peace pipes and play “All You Need Is Love”?

I think maybe we don’t appreciate how hard the process is. Who are we to lecture their leadership? Look at our own divided mess here.

Of course the war and its aftermath were handled poorly. I don’t hear anyone disputing that. But we are where we are. And it just seems to me that we should hope and pray that these more optimistic assessments coming from various quarters to be realistic. It is in the interest of all decent people that we succeed. The situation is no doubt fragile and this is no time for popping corks. But maybe it is a time for hope.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bloxorz

My very good friend Sam, at my request, sent me a link to a very cool online game sight called Mousebreaker. There is one game called Bloxorz that is very cool.

Except, how am I supposed to get ANY work done now?

Richland Creek Is Dry

About an hour ago I drove north on Lawndale Drive past the Food Lion (in the old Winn-Dixie building) and noticed that Richland Creek (that flows through Country Park and Battleground Park, and after crossing under Cottage Place and Lawndale Drive, eventually empties into Lake Jeanette) was completely dried up – no water flowing at all. I don’t remember that happening even in the terrible drought of a few years ago.

My garden is dying; including some beloved shrubs and bushes – such as one of our two Rhododendrons and my beloved Tea Olive. The particular Rhododendron should not have been planted where it was – but it was there when we bought the house. I planted the Tea Olive myself. It’s hard to know how much I should water them given the state of things. I am PRAYING that that tropical depression makes its way right to us and gives us a whole lot of rain.

John Edward's House (and how it saps his credibility to me)

I just read Time Magazine’s article (in the Sept. 10 edition - see also here) about the John Edward’s campaign - "Why Iowa Loves John Edwards - And how he's betting the farm on their support." Time gives much credit for the renewed vigor of Edward’s campaign to his war on poverty tour, or whatever exactly it was called in the article.

Though I am not terribly fond of Edwards’ style or persona, I admire him for defying conventional wisdom and leaning as far left as he has. And I am glad someone is drawing attention to the more needy amongst us.

As a practicing Christian and a Christian pastor, I believe that the manner in which we as a nation treat the poorest and weakest among us is of profound significance and importance. I have studied significantly what the bible has to tell us on the matter, and though it does not tell us what role a secular government should play or not play, it tells us much about how we are to act. I have written about this in my Caring for the Poor and Needy: the Biblical Mandate.

We all share a responsibility to care about the lives of widows and orphans and the poor and “strangers and aliens” – and to do more than just care: even as James says in his epistle:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).”

But I just cannot get past the fact that John Edwards lives in one of the biggest houses in Orange County. Hey, I am all for a guy making money – more power to him. But to preach and advocate governmental responsibility to the poor, and yet to live out an appearance of such conspicuous consumption, well, it just bugs me. It makes him seem disingenuous. It saps his credibility to me.

I suppose it may be asking too much of any of us to address this issue in a way that not partisan, but I’d like to know how others feel about this.

How to Avoid God

A friend sent to me a great quote from CS Lewis, that I thought I would share, along with my friend's intro:

C.S. Lewis would not give advice for pursuing God, having always felt like the one being pursued. But he did make some suggestions for promoting God’s absence which should give us some hints about independence from the flow of our culture. “Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status and (above all) on your grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.”

Photo of the Day - September 7, 2007 - Sun on Grassy Reed Near Pond

I've always loved this picture.

Check out my other photos on Flickr.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

My Stupid Poem

No More Clinton
No more Bush
Time to give them
Both a push

Twenty Years is
Long enough
I’m so tired of
All their stuff

Let us have
Barach Obama
He’ll send ‘em in
To find Osama

Let us have that
Thompson dude
If he is picked
Osama’s screwed

We don’t need
Another dufus
Saying things that
Just confuse us

We don’t need
Another bear
Who panders to
Who’s sitting there

Time for change
Time for newness
Time to shake off
All this blueness

Goodbye I say
To Hillary
Goodbye I say
To Billary

Goodbye I say
To W
Goodbye I say
To brothers too

No more Clinton
No more Bush
Time to Give them
All a push

Photo of the Day - Thursday September 6, 2007 - Snowfall in Amsterdam

On such a warm and dry day as today I thought I'd bring you thoughts of cooler times! This picture was taken on one of the most awesome days of my life. I was in Amsterdam, April 1978, staying in a youth hostel. I had already spent a day at the Rembrandt Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, and was quite satisfied with my visit. And then it started to snow. It snowed and snowed and snowed, and I walked all over Amsterdam until I was completely exhausted. It was SO beautiful. I had black and white film in my old Fujica 801 that day. I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

pandora.com - way cool

My friend Brad turned me on to Pandora (www.pandora.com) and I am totally digging it. I am using the free service so far. Basically you type in an artist or a song and it creates a “station” (as in radio station) of music that shares similar characteristics, and presents the songs one after another. You don’t know what’s coming, and you can’t choose a particular song to play, though by clicking “thumbs up” or ‘thumbs down” for each song you can “teach” Pandora what songs you want to hear or not hear. I have about ten stations of different genres. For each song you can click on an icon and get detailed information about the song, the album, or the artist. It is a super way to hear both music you like and music which you may not have known before. I’ve discovered I really like the band “Wilco” about which I had known pretty much nothing. I have a hard time working in total quiet, and it’s great to have the music playing in the background, and if I want to pause and listen closely I can do that. You should check it out.

Try Again - After Larry Craig: Let's Reconsider Chastity

OK, I was up too late and butchered the English language on my post from 1:00am or whenever it was. Good grief, I didn't even spell "Larry" right. I have corrected it, much to the relief of my language-loving friends, and if you want just follow this link for the corrected version - After Larry Craig: Let's Reconsider Chastity. And yes, I think he should resign.

Cool It

Bjørn Lomborg’s new book, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming,” will, hopefully, add positively to the debate regarding global warming and it’s impact upon the earth over the next hundred years.

At this point I support almost anything that falls between global warming hysteria on the one hand and conspiracy theorists on the other. Open minded discussion devoid of strong arming on either side would be nice.

But what we really need is a wider-spread ethic of creation care. OK, I grant, not everyone can embrace my use of the word “creation.” Such implies a creator, and some folks can't go with that. If you’re one of those folks, translate my phrase as “ethic of earth care” if you’d like.

In the end it should not be fear that motivates us to care for this good earth upon which we have been set. Ultimately what should motivate us is virtue, love, stewardship, and moderation.

Love of God is a good motivator – it is His earth and we should not be poisoning it and ripping it apart to satisfy our lust and greed. We should not be wiping his wonderful creatures off the map either.

But love of neighbor should also be a good motivator. How we treat the earth, what we put into the air and water – all this impacts other people. Do we want to do good to our neighbor or harm to our neighbor?

Love of creation itself is a good motivator. Some have called this “biophilia,” and it speaks to that bond we have (or our better selves have) with the living creatures and systems around us.

The virtue of moderation is another good reason to care about the earth. How many of our environmental problems are caused by unbridled and conspicuous consumption – consumption which requires unsustainable use of limited resources. Contentment, moderation, gratitude – the exercise of these virtues alone would impact our world for the better in countless ways.

And this brings up the virtue of stewardship, the wise and sustainable use of that which has been given to us. Stewardship is a virtue. Good stewardship would cause us to look closely at our patterns of life. Good stewardship leads to moderation, conservation, recycling, and loving care of fragile ecosystems and their biodiversity. Those ecosystems have not only animals and plants that we do better to love than to abuse, but they also contain the future cures for many if not most human diseases. We have barely begun to understand the relationship between rare bio-chemicals in this plant or that fungus, and our own diseases.

Good stewardship protects and defends the good and beautiful things which are given to us, as it were, as a gift. Beauty is a central part of the human experience. The absence of it harms our souls and strangles our spirits. We are less without it. As a species, to a great extent, according to our stewardship of a beauty we received but did not create, we play a role in whether beauty remains. It is a gift to be cherished and protected, as good stewards do.

Good stewardship keeps in mind the generation to come after us. What do we want to bequeath to them? Would the virtue of good stewardship not want to give to our children and children’s children an even better and more beautiful world than we have received from our fathers and mothers? I think so.

This is, again, why putting global warming up front as the be all and end all environmental issue concerns me. Eliminate that from your mind and you still have hundreds of reasons to practice an ethic of creation care, or earth care, and hundreds of ways, big and small, to make this world a better place for all who inhabit it.

Photo of the Day - September 5, 2007 - September Along the Chattooga

This picture was taken from the South Carolina side looking across to the Georgia side of the Chattooga River. The tree is a Sourwood - almost always the first tree in the southern woods to turn color - or at least to turn red. We have a few nice sour woods around Greensboro. If you see a tree with reddish leaves in September, taller than a dogwood but still and under story tree, and generally with a sweeping/arcing shape, and a dark alligator-skin type bark, it's a Sourwood. There is one right at the end of Lake Brandt Road where it dead ends into Old Battleground. I will enjoy it until the Urban Loop takes it out.

After Larry Craig: Let's Reconsider Chastity

So, Larry Craig as U.S. Senator is history. Or before today he was. Now he is not sure. I think his resignation is for the best. He needed to go for several reasons – either for soliciting sex in a public bathroom (if that happened), for engaging in the very kinds of acts he speaks so strongly against (if that happened), or for being just a dumb nut pleading guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct (if the two things above are not true, then what is the disorderly conduct about, and why would a man of integrity plead guilty to something he did not do?). As if it wouldn’t come back to haunt him. He was whisked away so quickly by the Senate establishment that it appears he had a history of such conduct, or that there was a history of suspicions of such conduct, which raises its own set of questions and concerns.

He says he isn’t gay. I don’t even know what “gay” means anymore. It does seem that many gay folk want to make gayness a central part of a person’s persona and psyche – either you are fundamentally gay or you’re fundamentally not gay. I am not sure things are so cut and dry. And my guess is that as to this either/or definition that Larry Craig is not gay. What I do think is true is that people, whether through unhealthy sexual development, the influence of pornography, or the experience of periods of life of unbridled sexuality of all kinds, allow a kind of relentless sensuality to take root, and sex with about anyone or anything will work, even if it conflicts with the conscience, one’s sense of the public good, or one’s stated and sincere public or moral views.

The idea of sexual solicitation and sexual acts in public bathrooms makes me want to puke. Ugh, do I even want to go in another public bathroom? Gross, what is that on the seat?

Behind all the well intended and high minded debate about the rights or the non rights of gay people, there is a broader and more significant issue, more moral in nature perhaps than legal, and that is the unbridled sexuality that oozes across our culture at every turn. It’s everywhere – from the Cosmo cleavages in the grocery store line, to the ubiquitous presence of porn on the internet, to the overly advertised “men’s” clubs, to the steamy scenes on TV day in and day out, to the terribly immodest clothes foisted on our young teens and pre teens, to the juvenile and inappropriate sex humor on almost all the morning radio shows, to the Victoria Secret ads and commercials, to the innumerable pages of soft porn in the Rhino Times (now there is an irony), to the incessant ED commercials, I mean – we live in a sex drenched age! It’s getting downright disgusting.

Christians historically have been ridiculed for being uptight about sex, though Christians seem to know how to make kids pretty well according to demographic data. But that’s “procreation,” a different matter, right?

Well maybe it’s time for the historic orthodox Christian teaching regarding sexual chastity to make a comeback. Chastity does not mean abstinence; it means appropriate sexual expression, and it strongly implies modesty as regards our sexuality. I know - the word “chastity” doesn’t get much respect these days. It is thought of, wrongly, as implying a low view of human sexuality, or as sexuality as somehow inherently evil, as some Gnostics understood it. Or chastity is ridiculed or dismissed as “Victorian” (as if Christian views of sexuality began in the Victorian era), or worse still perhaps, as “Catholic.” But in reality the concept of chastity promotes inner wholeness and purity as well as societal stability and order. Yes, it is true, the historic orthodox Christian view of chastity, which I would say is the Biblical view, teaches that the God-intended context or environment for sexual expression is that of heterosexual monogamous marriage. Within this definition, chastity as a moral virtue applies to all people in all situations, married, single, old, young, tending toward gay, tending toward straight. Every person, regardless of his or her situation, is tempted to engage in sexual expression beyond these boundaries one way or another, and the difference in the depth of the temptation (and difficulty) may not be so different between folks of different life situations or inner tendencies as is often thought. Chastity as a calling, and as a challenge, applies to everyone. It is hard for everyone. I realize that this notion may go over like a lead balloon in the year 2007, but seriously, it’s time that we rethink where we are. Our culture reeks, it stinks, it has become grotesque, an outhouse of sexual libertarianism. No wonder other people do not want it exported to their shores.

I am perfectly aware that the historic orthodox Christian definition of sexuality will find many opponents, not the least of whom would be gay people. There may be no neutral ground or possibility of compatibility or agreement on this matter, and of course there is no ultimate way to separate the moral issue from its legal /social ramifications. But I ask, is it not possible for both straight and gay people, even if they cannot agree in every way about the appropriate context for sexual expression, or about the definition of marriage – is it not possible that gay and straight people can agree that the hyper sexually drenched nature of our culture is terrible, and at some level at least a compromise definition of chastity that limits, chastens, and calls to task both the heterosexual and homosexual libertarianism of our day would be in order?