Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Dad's Birthday

My dad, Curtis Claunch Gillespie, Jr. This picture was taken at the Gator Bowl in 1979 I think, when Clemson played and got stomped by Pitt. I have always loved this picture. My dad was 48 or 49.

Today April 30, 2008 would have been my dad's 78th birthday. He died a rather unusual accidental lonely death in June of 1989, a few days before I moved to Greensboro. I think of the line in "Mr. Bojangles" as describing myself - "after 20 years he still grieves."

My dad was a "man's man," a big burly fellow, very athletic in his days at Dreher High school in Columbia, with an entrepreneurial spirit and an artist's touch. He was a Southern gentleman. As I type I am looking at three amazingly beautiful roses he painted, which are framed and hanging on my living room wall above the piano. He was outgoing, and hit it off well with almost everyone.

He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, in 195o I think, with a major in commerce. He met my mom while serving in the Air Force, stationed at the base outside Sherman Texas, her home town.

When I was about 10 years old he stepped away from a 15 year career in the insurance industry to start a dry cleaning business, which, with four kids, was a pretty gutsy move. I worked at Gillespie Cleaners all through Jr. High and High School, and off and on afterward. His mantra, "the customer is always right," has stuck with me over the years. So has the way he treated his employees, regardless of race or gender or economic class, or whatever. He had people working for him for twenty years, and I am talking "in the back" at a dry cleaners where it is hot and loud. I think that says a lot right there. They were like family to him, and to me. I miss them too.

When he died my brother Bobby took over the business. Bobby treated folks the same way.

Many people know that my dad had become a binge alcoholic by the time I was in Junior High school. He would be sober for several months, and then for whatever reason would slip, have a beer, and usually try to hide that he had, but we could always tell. That began a two or three week binge. He would end up on straight vodka, by the quart, totally passed out for a week or so. The stories I could tell! It wasn't fun, though there were a few funny episodes.

Some people who knew me then think of my dad or define him in those terms. But he was much much more than that, and I remember now mostly the good things. I feel compassion for him, in my memory, as to his problems. He went through terrible cycles, and I sat with him over the years as he went through unbelievable terrible withdrawals. I am amazed that they didn't kill him. It got better as he got older, thankfully.

He was a gambling man. Since he was always betting on some game, we were always listening to and watching sports. And he was all Tar Heel. Tar Heel blue ran deep to the core. So he was always betting on the Tar Heels. We had radios of all kinds, so even if North Carolina (the name we South Carolinians give to your state school) were playing in Alaska, he would find it on the radio. He waited a long time for a basketball championship between 1957 and 1982. I was there with my good friend Jim Hamrick in my dad's den watching the game with him and my mom in 1982. It was a happy moment.

He had a temper and could cuss like a sailer (like when he couldn't find his keys or a pen or his glasses, or when we had our music on way too loud), and he had no clue how to deal with children who came to age in the sixties, but he and I were always close, even when we argued. He always encouraged me, always told me he loved me, always hugged me when I left to go back to college or even just left to go back to my house, after I had left home.

We watched a lot of TV, and despite the fact that I was 13 in 1970, and was already into rock music, there was a lot of music we loved together - Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Bobby Darin, for example. We watched Johnny Carson a lot together too. We went to see John Denver together in 1976. And movies - we went to a ton of movies, many of which I had no business seeing!

I miss him more than I can say. I dream of him at least every week. My new employer at the time demanded I report to duty on July 1, a few days after he died, and I felt I never got to grieve. But then, I guess I always will, grieve, I mean.

I have many memories of my dad, and so much more I'd love to share, but this will do for now.

I wish you were here Dad.

You can see more pictures of my dad here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

God's Judgment and Our History

I wanted to address an issue that came up in each of my last two posts, and that is the issue of God's judgment on our nation (or any nation for that matter)

I address this as an historic orthodox Christian, affirming with other historic Orthodox Christians my belief in Jesus Christ as the risen/resurrected Lord of all who will return as King and Judge. This was the clear unambiguous teaching of Jesus Himself, and of the Apostles. The later (so called) Apostles' Creed puts it this way "from From thence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead." That line could have taken straight from just about any sermon in the book of Acts. It was the belief and teaching from he beginning.

I realize that those who are not Christians don't believe this, and I realize that more theologically liberal Christians don't much believe this either. I have no intention to persuade; I am only affirming a theological premise for what follows.

The Christian looks to what he refers to as the Old Testament and sees God in a very special covenant relationship with one particular nation of the earth - Israel. Along with the blessings of being in relationship with God, Israel also bore the burden of being under potential covenant curse or blessing according to how she lived according to the stipulations of the covenant. Curses and blessings were part and parcel of the Covenant itself.

But now (from the Christin point of view), God is not in a unique covenant relationship with any of the current nations of the earth. The Christian looks and works toward the ongoing preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ to all of the people/languages/nations of the earth equally. There is not really one nation that has a "special status," unless in some way, Israel does. (According to the Christian writers, the God of Israel, though seeing the purpose and point of Israel fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus, nevertheless has an ongoing special affection for the descendants of Abraham according to promise, i.e., via Isaac).

The Christian also sees the church itself (and possibly individual churches) as in a kind of covenant relationship with God where they may a level of blessing or cursing according to obedience or disobedience (see Revelation 2 and 3). Plus the Christian sees a large world-wide judgment of God against evil and rebellion when Jesus returns.

One also sees an ongoing battle as it were between the power of the state and the power of the state-sanctioned civil religion (on the one hand), and the people of God (on the other hand). If the book of Revelation says anything it says that over the course of history as a whole, good will win, God will win, His people will be vindicated, and death and sin and curse will be destroyed.

Again, a person who is not a Christian would not agree with any of this. I'm still laying groundwork for my point.

Here is the point. In the here and now of life in a fallen world we do not know God's secret counsel; we do not know "why" specific or particular bad things happen (whether the people be "good" or not), and we do not know whenever there is a disaster that it is due to God's special judgment upon a nation or a people. So, we don't know, Reverend Wright, if what happened on 9/11 was a matter of God's judgment in the "what goes around comes around sense." Nor do we know, Mr Cizic, whether God will judge America for not passing sufficient legislation regarding global warming. We do not know. we cannot know.

There are so many Christians who see America as having a "special nation status" with God, and who, as they see moral decay as evidenced by abortion and pornography and family breakdown and conspicuous consumption, expect God's imminent judgment. There are many Christians who see the United States as the focal point of evil in the world, and which can expect judgment at any time for its sins of greed and war mongering and environmental degradation and inattention to the poor, etc.

But we cannot read God's mind. We do not know the "why's" for many things that happen. Speculative after the fact comments like Jeremiah Wright's, or speculative ahead of time warnings like Cizic's really are just blowing smoke. They do now know. They cannot know.

In fact all human beings, including Christians, have a responsibility to do right, to pursue justice, and to seek the good of others. This applies everywhere to every nation (The Christian believes). But ours is just one of the many nations. As citizens and as a body politic we have responsibilities, and when we act stupidly or unjustly there may well be predictable consequences which are bad, or, as is often the case, we or some other nation may get away with evil for a very long time. Such has been the story of world history. Just how God's judgment intersects with our history we just do not know and will not know until the story is over.

For the Old Testament Psalmist as well as the New Testament Christian, the idea of God's coming in judgment was great news. Finally and at long last things will be made right. For the psalmist this was such good news he could see the trees clapping their hands with joy. For the Christian this is simply a basic core principle of life and prayer - "Thy Kingdom Come," or put another way, "Come, Lord Jesus."

I confess I can get grumpy at the anti intellectualism of our day that has led so many Christians, especially protestant Evangelical ones, to be so ignorant of their own faith. I even wish non Christians would become more knowledgeable of historic orthodox Christianity, just as I need to become more knowledgeable regarding Islam and Hinduism and modern Judaism, not just out of respect, but also so we can at least have an intelligent conversation. I still hold out hope.

In the mean time I wish Christian leaders, whether liberal or conservative, would quit invoking God's judgment (maybe "evoking" would also be true here), especially when their own theological hobby horse is involved. It's bad form.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thoughts on Obama's Woes

I have wanted to offer a few thoughts on the Obama - Jeremiah Wright story, and a few other Obama matters, and since I am wide awake at 11:30pm I think I'll do it now. I'll try to be brief - just ten short paragraphs!

First, putting aside Wright's more outrageous comments and his visit to Libya, well, and his theology generally, it is NOT the job of a Christian pastor to be "patriotic," whatever that means. It is the pastor/preacher's job to preach and teach what is true, and for the Christian pastor this generally means the truth of the Scriptures, and whether that sits well with the political status quo or any sort of civil religion or nationalism is irrelevant. Jesus talked about the destruction of his people's most cherished national shrine, their temple, which made him about as low on the patriot scale as one could get. Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Micah (some of Israel's great prophets) certainly would not have been considered patriots. This is an important matter for me personally, speaking to the core of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

Second, as to God damning America I am reminded of Jesus' words. He was asked about the people who had been killed by Pilate. Were they worse sinners than others? He was asked about the 18 who died when the tower of Siloam fell upon them. Were they worse offenders than others? Jesus answer in both cases was the same - "unless you repent you will likewise perish." In other words, worry about yourself and don't speculate about those others and "why" they died. Jesus certainly did not say "yes" to the disciples' assumption that those people died specifically as judgment for their sins. Jeremiah Wright does not know that 9/11 was a matter of "what goes around comes around." He simply does not know that. Whether one is a right wing conservative or a left wing liberal, assuming one knows why things happen vis a vis God's judgment is risky business. I posted Thursday about an Evangelical Christian who was invoking God's judgment on America because of her inattention to global warming. He knows that how?

Third, Jeremiah Wright has been a long time advocate of what is called "Liberation Theology." Google the phrase and read the Wikipedia article. It's pretty accurate. Liberation Theology was really big back in the last two decades of the cold war, and since it sees social justice (and the achieving of social justice through political and oft times revolutionary means) as the essence of the gospel, many Liberation Theologians have tended towards Socialism of various kinds. Liberation Theologians have been generally anti-capitalistic and thus anti-American, so the marriage of Liberation Theology and Socialism was natural and convenient one. Liberation Theology was very big in Latin America as Socialism made a big move there.

Fourth, it has always been pretty run of the mill for Liberation Theology types to be also anti Israel. They look at the situation in Palestine and see the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli control, and seem to have blinders about the dangers faced by Israel. I wonder how much Barach Obama absorbed Liberation Theology. I wonder how much it is in his head when he talks about himself as a Christian. I am pretty confident based on my years of reading the Gospels, and trying to understand them in their historical context, that Jesus would have rejected Liberation Theology out of hand (as much as he cared for the sick and poor and demon possessed).

Fifth, Jeremiah Wright's church is a mostly African American church within a very theological liberal mostly white denomination. Generally if a church group has the word "united" in it's name it means that it has decided that one can believe pretty much anything and be a part of it. We have long been in a situation where words that used to have a certain common meaning don't have their meanings anymore, especially religious, and even more especially traditional Christian words. This is certainly the case in "liberal" theology (which should not be confused with "liberal" politics). Liberal theology is, at its essence, anthropology; it is more about what people along the way have thought or said about God and less about what God has said about Himself.

Sixth, I don't buy the networking/climb-the-ladder argument as to Obama's reasons for attending that Jeremiah Wright's church. He just seems too smart and straight up to me for that. He must have actually agreed with many of the basic tenets of Wright's teaching, and since Wright was an advocate of Liberation Theology, I can't help but think Obama was sympathetic to that theology. I wouldn't even care except that people carry their deep convictions with them.

Seventh, without any question the person running for office that I personally like the most and am most drawn to is Barach Obama. But I simply do not know what he really stands for, especially how of much these Liberation Theology ideas he carries with him. It may not be the pastor's job to be a patriot, but a President of the United States has a profound duty to serve and protect the citizens of the United States (and, I hope the other free peoples of the world, such as Israel).

Eighth, it does bother me that Obama did not (not "has not recently" but "did not then") denounce William Ayers' post 9/11 comments. Those comments were not made 40 years ago when Obama was a child, and by Obama's own admission he has known Ayers in Chicago for many years. Ayers' comments post 9/11 should have been denounced by Obama apart from any political pressure to do so. It is an offense to the people who died on that terrible day that he did not.

Ninth, Obama's record is extremely non bipartisan. Has anyone running for President actually achieved bipartisan success other than McCain?

Tenth, and I cannot believe I am saying this, but I have done a big 180 turn. I hope Hillary finds a way to win the nomination, as much as the idea of another Clinton (or Bush) in the White House makes me sick. I am not saying this because I think McCain will win against her more easily. I am not sure that that is true. I am saying that if I had to choose between Obama and Hillary, if those were my two choices, at this point I would choose Hillary.

And seeing her put down those shots was a key moment for me :-)

All, for now.

Craving Liver

Ahhh, it's nice to be fiddling in Blogger again. I've been away a while. In fact, I've been pretty much down and out for a few weeks and just did my first decent walk - wow, spring has sprung in Greensboro! I saw four or five species of butterflies in my little 1.4 mile slow walk. One goal for this year is to learn my butterflies.

But for now all I can think about is liver.

Two weeks ago this coming Friday I awoke with a horrific migraine. Actually, I had had a spate of them that week. I didn't know why then. Now I do.

Anyway that Friday along with the normal bells and whistles that go with migraine I developed very bad vertigo - a whole new migraine symptom for me, or so I thought. I had to crawl around the house for two days - could not stand up. I felt off the chart terrible. Seems I was also dehydrated which kind of goes with migraine territory - more fluid leaving than coming in. I felt better as I hydrated and thought the dizziness was just due to that.

But it hung around, the dizziness, the malaise, so I finally went to see the doctor, my cardiologist, since I was most concerned about low BP and this awful loud "swooshing" sound in my head every time my heart beat. It was good check up, but he said I looked pale, and almost as an afterthought suggested I go to the lab and have some blood drawn to check for anemia.

The next morning they called to tell me my hemoglobin was 8.6, and would I go see a GI specialist that afternoon. So I went. They took more blood which then identified the problem as iron deficiency anemia, and recommended an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I was lying down or sleeping most of last week I was so fatigued and dizzy.

I had the colonoscopy and endoscopy this Tuesday. Getting ready for those tests is loads of fun. The main purpose of doing this was to rule out a BIG BAD cause and possibly detect one less dramatic one.

As far as the colososcopy, things down there are as clear as could be. Not a hint of a red mark, polyp, anything. I was supposed to be "out of it" but was totally lucid and enjoyed the tour of my bowels. I am a geek that way. So for now, colon cancer is out of the picture. As far as the endoscopy, there were two small ulcers in my stomach. They are small and were not bleeding at the time of the endoscopy. The doctor took a sample for biopsy to try to identify the cause. Usually there is a bacteria involved that can be treated once identified.

The doctor also took a small amount of tissue from the lining of the duodenum (uppermost part of the small intestine) in order to do a test to see if the cilia there are absorbing iron.

Oh, the really fun part was the audio - the colonoscopy after-effects. They have to push air in to inflate the bowel in order to see it clearly, and then, well, that air has to come out. So the nurse ordered me, ordered me mind you, to lie there and fart. She said the "f" word. I am still in shock.

Unfortunately my bowel didn't totally cooperate and decided to get rid of the air once I got home. That was kind of fun actually. It was better than those fart web sites!

So for now the plan is to try to get my iron levels up using iron supplements and some dietary additions. I have a physical in five weeks and that should give the docs a chance to know if the supplements and dietary additions are helping. It is kind of a slow process. Also, once the culprit is identified in the stomach there will be specific treatment for that too.

I got the sense the GI doctor remains worried about my having lost 40 pounds over the last 10 months, but I have radically changed my diet to eliminate simple starches and sugars, have been eating less generally, and exercising a whole lot more.

If none of that works then the next thing to do is test the bone marrow. We’ll hope and pray for the best. Right now all I can think about is liver.

An Early Spring Wildflower

Lamium, growing in my yard. For more photos of March 2008 in the Triad look here.

Evangelicals and the Environment

I wrote this as a reply to a piece on HumbleORadio. Check it out. It's a reflection about comments made about global warming and God's judgment by Rev. Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals’ vice-president of governmental affairs.

Here's my comment:

It's hard anymore to define what "Evangelical" means. I have about given up trying. So many people have so many different associations with the word it almost just does not mean anything anymore. So, putting aside that rubric for a moment, there is in fact a growing sense amongst historic orthodox Christians (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) that concern for the glory of God and the good of man must include concern for the health of God's world. I am certainly one of those, being what many would call an evangelical Protestant. But I am uneasy about Cizik's position for several reasons. First, even assuming he is right on the science of global warming, how does he know America will face judgment from God if we don't attend to global warming? There are many sins, even environmental ones, that I think might be closer to the front of the line as to God's judgment. That's just empty talk. Just blather. He doesn't know that. The phrase "destroyers of the earth" in Revelation 11:18 could possibly be, but probably is not, a reference to environmental degradations. However, Israel's disregard for the land, their failure to give sabbath rest to the land, was one of the reasons for the time-length of their exile. God does care about his earth. Third, (and OK, I expect to get it here), as passionate an environmentalist as I am, I am not convinced as to the extent or causes of global warming, and I fear that many very real tangible environmental issues that involve public health - and the integrity and beauty of creation - are being put aside amidst all the global warming hoopla. Fourthly, Cizik speaks for himself. Certainly not for me.

We do have reason to believe as Christians that the "fall" included the fall of the whole of the created order. And yes, we also affirm and believe in a "new heaven and new earth." Until this earth is renewed by the events of those days, we have a responsibility to love God and love our neighbor, which means caring for God's creation motivated by both loves. And Cizik is right that evangelical Christian citizens should not care only about abortion and gay marriage. Many other issues matter in the ongoing role we have as lovers of God and neighbor, and even as we seek to present the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot preach the gospel with integrity to our neighbor if we are killing him with our waste products. And pray tell, how many people do you know, when they need retreat, when they need to get away and pray and be with their God, prefer parking lots and freeways and such? We need special places, not only for the sake of God's glory (as their beauty reflect back to him) and for the sake of the creatures (which God declared to be "good" and which he blessed), but also for the sake of our own spirits as we seek to hear God amidst the din of this noisy and dirty world.

Friday, April 11, 2008

China Pretty Much Sucks

"Athletes who display Tibetan flags at Olympic venues — including in their own rooms — could be expelled from this summer’s Games in Beijing under anti-propaganda rules." quoted in The Sun, April 11.

If this is accurate, then I stand by my title.

I hope all our athletes, to a person, displays a Tibetan flag.