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Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking Down from Hanging Rock

I was trying to get a good line on a mixed patch of rhododendron and mountain laurel below, but the pictures didn't turn out well. The shot of me was taking by my hiking bud Mike Ehrhardt. For more pictures from our May 25, 2008 hike, look here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bremely

From a Covenant Fellowship Cook Out/Picnic at beautiful Bur-Mil Park, Sunday May 18.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Greensboro Wiki

Early this week a Clemson student found some pictures on my Flikr site of Clemson in the mid 1970's. He made lots of neat comments. In one of the comments he made reference to ClemsonWiki, a site he had checked out to find out more about Issaqueena Dam, a favorite playground in my Clemson days. See the ClemsonWiki article about Issaqueena Dam here.

Anyway, poking around ClemsonWiki revived an idea I had floated a while back about us having a local Greensboro Wiki site. I had put a fair amount of time into our church sponsored site The Back Porch, but because (I think) of it being sponsored by our church, it was just really hard to find people to contribute articles and expertise to it.

I would love to be a part of a true community wiki site, and would gladly devote considerable time and effort to such an effort. I do NOT have the computer know how to set it up and maintain it though. I would be happy to serve, perhaps with a couple of others, on an oversight board, or maintenance group, or whatever they call it. There is this sentence on Clemson's site - "ClemsonWiki.com is currently maintained by C. mark Sublette, Evilphoenix, Darvian, Levine, 3toes, and Victor." I think you have to have a few folks to keep mischief away, like a flood of articles about the best local strippers, or articles in praise of the local Klan leaders, or just total nonsense. I am not sure how that is dealt with in Wikipedia but there must be some way to take out the trash. And there would need to be the computer software maintenance I am sure as well.

I looked up "GreensboroWiki" and it looks like the domain has lapsed. One could go with Triad Wiki or GuilfordWiki I suppose if not.

I think having such a site would be an asset to our community, and would draw in the expertise of a lot of people.

I am moving into a new phase of my work in my job and community and this is one project I would love to be a part of. I would gladly give ALL of my backporch.org content to it, whatever is deemed worthy, as we phase out that site (or not, if GreensboroWiki doesn't happen).

Anyone interested?

Idol Surprise

As everyone in my house knows, I have been pulling for David Cook all season to win American Idol, but I was certain - certain - that David Archuleta would was going to actually win the thing. The kid has an incredible voice, and I thought the young teenage girls would absolutely swarm the phones with votes. As my daughter says, "He is so cute!"

When I heard of the unprecedented high number of votes I was even more sure of it.

I was happy that the two people I identified two months ago as the two best actually made it to the finals. That was a first for me.

I talked to my daughter Heather Wednesday afternoon. I said that my take on Tuesday night's finale was that David Cook just wasn't the sort of guy to try to win by singing the BIG songs that would be needed to wow the audience. In fact, I said, I thought that he thought that the other David was going to win, and that he was cool with that. I actually really liked all three of his songs Tuesday night, even though they weren't "blow you away" type songs. He did a great job with "I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," a song picked for him by Clive Davis, which he sang in a very cool reflective manner. The new and just written second song "Dream Big" I thought was really good as well, but again, not a show stopper type song. And his version of "The World I Know!" was sublime and beautiful, yet, again, restrained. I would buy a CD of his in a New York minute, well, if I had any money.

Archuleto could not have done better Tuesday night. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" is a big crowd pleasing kind of song, and he sang it perfectly and with nuance and passion. He really has an amazing voice. I was most impressed by the second song, the "new" song "In This Moment." It was, simply put, beautiful, if possibly a little self indulgent. But he knocked it out of the park. I wasn't as impressed with his take on "Imagine" but everyone else seemed to be.

Archuleto has more vocal range (as in being able to hit more notes on the scale) and a silkier voice. Cook has more vocal range as in being able to sing all sorts of genres well, and a more powerful voice.

I agreed with Simon - either of them would have perfectly deserving.

But I wanted Cook because I personally just love his voice and the kinds of music he seems drawn to sing, and because I like him personally.

I have been really touched by his friendship with the other contestants, especially how he has taken Archuleto under his wing. I really enjoyed watching him grab David A and pull him over and kind of nuggy him. They seemed to really admire and respect each other. That has not always been the case with Idol contestants. It may not make for good television drama. But I like it.

I have a feeling that Cook thought Archuleto was going to win, and he was cool with that, and didn't want to steal the stage. That's my read. Archuleto could not have done better Tuesday night. In the end some grown ups and older teens and maybe even some boys must have voted.

I wish both David's great success.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Changes at Willow Creek

OK, I am glad to hear about projected changes in Willow Creek, the quintessential consumerist superficial baby boomer church. But do they really care more about the historic orthodox biblical Christian faith (and true Christian discipleship) or do they care more about keeping the coffers full. One wonders. What do you think?

Heather after Graduation Sunday

See more pictures of Heather's wet May 11 UNC Graduation here.

As If to Prove My Point

Barack Obama had a chance today to make a substantive argument regarding Bush's comments about Iran, and he didn't if I can trust the reporting at breitbart.com.

Here is what he said according to breitbart.com:

Barack Obama rebuked Republican rival John McCain and President Bush for "dishonest, divisive" attacks in hinting that the Democratic presidential candidate would appease terrorists, staunchly defending his national security credentials for the general election campaign.

Obama responded Friday to Bush's speech Thursday to the Israeli Knesset. The president referred to the leader of Iran, who has called for the destruction of the U.S. ally, and then said some seem to believe that we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals—comments Obama and Democrats said were directed at them. McCain subsequently said Obama must explain why he wants to talk with rogue leaders.

"I'm a strong believer in civility and I'm a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we've seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple days, " Obama told about 2,000 voters at a town hall-style meeting in a livestock barn.

Give me a break. So, to make a case against Obama's positions is being "divisive" and "uncivil." He is being a baby. If he has a real argument, he should make it, and quit whining about the tone and civility of Bush's comments. And McCain's question is perfectly reasonable. Maybe McCain is wrong. Maybe Bush is wrong. So make a case why they are wrong, and quiting acting so above it all. Good grief.

Shaking Off The Dust and Ashes - Or Not

In a post back in April regarding Barack Obama (Thoughts on Obama's Woes) I raised questions about what Obama really does believe, and how much Jeremiah Wright's theology had informed his political sense. I actually wrote in that post...

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.

Well, along with everyone else I have been trying to figure out why she fights on. The only two answers I come up with are either 1) she is not able to accept reality, or 2) she is positioning herself for 2012. In either case, I have found her ongoing hopeless bid just lacking in good form. If she really wants to see Obama lose in 2008 then that really stinks. If she is in la la land that stinks too.

So, I was just getting ready to repent in dust and ashes for what I wrote above, when Obama's camp expressed such outrage over Bush's comments in Israel, when Bush compared the idea of meeting with Iran's leaders (and other terrorist state's leaders) as tantamount to appeasement, bringing to mind Chamberlain's famously inept meetings with Hitler.

It's one thing to come out and express disagreement. Do so. Disagree. State your case. But to cry "foul," as if Bush's comments amounted to political dirty tricks, to me is plain wimpy. Is Obama going cry "foul" every time McCain disagrees with him, or describes his positions as being unwise or inappropriate. Good grief.

I think Bush's view has merit. He may be wrong, and goodness knows he is almost pathologically incapable of articulating vision and making a reasonable case for anything. But a reasonable case can be made that for our President to meet with the likes of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be to legitimize Ahmadinejad and empower him, especially amongst his own population.

How do you sit down and talk with someone committed (according to his statements) to wiping Israel off the face of the earth? How do you sit down as "equal" parties with a dictator who is funding terrorism all over the Middle East? Maybe we should ask the good people of Beirut what they think about that?

It is minimally a valid question. It is also valid to compare doing so with appeasement of dictators, since, well, Ahmadinejad is, along with the conservative Iranian clerics, a dictator.

One may disagree with Bush's view. If so, disagree. Make a case. Explain why talking to Ahmadinejad isn't like appeasement. But don't cry "foul." Don't be a big baby. This is real life big time politics and real life grown up stuff.

Are we in for an election season where Obama will cry foul every time his positions are criticized or characterized in a way he does not like? Is this the strategy - trying to act so "different" and "above the fray" that real political discourse is not allowed? Is this going to be a "wus" campaign of the highest order? I dread it.

I was all ready to repent in dust and ashes of expressing support for Hillary, given her ongoing deluded or self obsessed campaign, and then I was ready to repent of so repenting when Obama's people played the baby card, and then Hillary went and followed suit. Now I don't know what to do.

Back to Obama - that seems to be the strategy - be very very very nice to me or I'll use the media to make you put to be a very mean person (all the while doing the same thing of course).

Will a REAL leader please stand up here?

Graduation Blues

I think the light stripes in the pink bag really draw out the light tan in the pants, don't you?

This was graduation Sunday at UNC Chapel Hill - cold, wet, miserable, but thankfully perhaps the shortest graduation ceremony ever!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Grasshoppers Postgame Fireworks 4-25


Taken at the April 25 Greensboro Grasshoppers game, downtown Greensboro, NC. I have more fireworks pictures here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

2007 4 by 800 4 A Champs!

The State 4A Track Championships are Saturday May 10 at NC A&T. Looking ahead it made me think of last year.

Last year about this time Anna Gillespie, Brook Howertone , Sarah Bowen, and Chelsea Holinlgsworth came from behind and won the North Carolina State 4A 4 x 800 Championship, to their and everyone else's surprise! They were finally awarded their championship rings the following fall 2007 at the conference Cross Country finals at Hagen Stone Park. Apparently it was a humdinger of a race! I would have liked to have seen it but my daughter Madeline and I were sitting in the car on Yanceyville waiting for the longest train in the history of the world to pass - the one and only time I've ever had to stop at the Yanceyville RR Crossing. Oh well.

Brook is out this year with an injury so it's hard to know how it will go, but they did win the 4A midwest Regionals in Charlotte last weekend.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Heather

Heather, my second daughter, graduates from UNC Chapel Hill this weekend. Seems like she just started there yesterday. Shoot, it seems like she was just born yesterday! She's a great kid.

This picture was taken during Spring break 2007 at Linville Falls. We had taken a little Father/Daughter day to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You can see other pictures of the family along the way here.

OK, I was all set to be composed about all this, but Have You Ever Seen the Rain just started playing on Pandora. Of all the very many songs Heather and I each like, I think that may be number one.

And it seems appropriate to the moment. It's a sunny day, and I'm all smiles, but the rain is falling, inside.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Good Bye, Mohawk We Will Miss You

A little over fifteen years ago my wife and four young daughters went to the city animal shelter and picked out a little white kitten to bring home as our first family pet. Back then the little kittne had a strip of black hair down the middle of her head, and so we named her Mohawk.

Mohawk has been a good and faithful pet. In my first years of work here I was out it seemed almost every night and Mohawk kept my wife company after the kids went to bed.

Perhaps because she was taken away from her siblings at such a young age Mohawk never really learned how to "play bite." So, horsing around with Mohawk has always been a dicey matter. When she bites, even in play, it draws blood!

But it's fun to "box" with her. She has no front claws, and she likes to stand up on her haunches and bat your hand as you play box with her. When she was younger you could also chase her around the house on your hands and knees. She would "hide" and pounce out at you from behind a door or between a chair and table. That was always fun.

I wish pets lived longer and we didn't have to go through the inevitable so many times over the course of life. I have a high view of animal life and their dignity - without being a neurotic pet owner. I think the relationship bonds we form with animals are real and significant. It is truly hard when we have to say goodbye.

Mohawk's body is no longer working as it ought; she seems very stressed (mostly by our other cats), and it is hard to pet or hold her without it seeming to cause pain. She has lost a lot of weight. We have to keep her in the bathroom more and more just to keep her from ruining the rest of the house. It's time, and that is very sad.

We'll have a few more days with her and then I will take her in. I've had to do this many times in my life. It's never easy, but there is a kind of honor in it.

Mohawk has been with us for all of my 11 year old daughter's life, most of my 17 year old daughter's life, and was my oldest daughter's first pet. She has been a great and constant companion for my wife all these years. There will be many tears in my house in the days ahead.

For more pictures of our felines past and present look here.

Bill Mallonee Concert - Wanna Go?

Bill Mallonee and Muriah Rose will be playing at The Evening Muse in Charlotte on Friday May 23 at 8:00pm. I'd love to go down with a van full of folks - or more! Tickets are $9.00 in advance.

We'd need to leave by around 6:15. Check out Bill's music at his MySpace site - http://www.myspace.com/billmallonee. He has some great deals going on his music at the store of his primary web site. I recommend Summershine, Audible Sigh, Locket Full of Moonlight, and Circa (his newest). Very much worth the money! he may well be the best singer songwriter in the US that you've not yet listened to.

If you're interested and want to ride down or caravan e-mail me at jsgillespie@mindspring.com.

Joel

Contentent Equals Recession

Well, any day now I should get my tax relief check. I don’t begrudge the people who hatched this plan though it seems very shallow and superficial. Mine will go right into paying off a small part of a line of credit. Sorry, no economic stimulus from me.

This whole “economic stimulus package” deal has brought back into my mind one of my greatest disappointments with the present administration, which really is a disappointment with our culture, and points to one reason that it is in decline.

When, after 9/11 we were exhorted as “patriots” not to let the terrorists cause us to be afraid or to change our way of life, and instead show them how undeterred we were and go "shop until we drop," well, my heart sank. Here, in the face of what I believe was a real war and a real enemy, we’re challenged not to sacrifice or volunteer but to shop. Well, it trivialized the whole deal.

As a Christian pastor I have often said to my congregation that if Christians in the United States were to hear and listen to their own Scriptures the nation would almost certainly enter into recession. Our economy is built upon the foundational principle of normal everyday people being discontent with what they have and thus spending money on what they don’t need.

What if, I wonder, those who profess to be Christians really listened to and heeded words such as the following:

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrew 13:5).

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).

"Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:31-33)

So imagine people refusing to buy what they don’t need, keeping things longer without upgrading or trading in, living on less, doing without, living in smaller houses, driving smaller cars, God forbid, not even having the full cable package, and, gasp, even saving some money and having more money to give away to others in need. The economy would tank.

But in the end we would be stronger and better off I think. I'm tired of the trivialization of life by those who profit by creating a sense of discontentedness, these drug dealers and pushers selling the rush that comes with imagining and buying shiny new things.

Enough is enough already.

I think we the American people, despite the growing demand for oil in China and India, could impact the price of oil by buying less of it. But we’re drunk on it. We can’t stop. We scream and yell at the big bad oil companies, and maybe they are, but we can’t let ourselves off the hook. We the people have power if we would use it. We could buy less.

We scream and yell at the big bad mortgage companies and banks for letting us borrow more than we should. Well, we don’t have to borrow to the limit of what we are allowed by the banks. They tell me I could afford a $350,000 house. Are you kidding? Are they crazy?

I don’t know much about monetary policy but I would imagine that our dollar would be stronger if we all saved more money and borrowed less.

I am one of those folks right in the economic “class” that Barach Obama likes to talk about. Even doing pretty well I have a bunch of kids and we have incurred a lot of medical debt. I am thankful I have insurance or we’d be really sunk. I realize that when it comes to medical policy normal supply and demand rules don’t apply, since the doctors and insurance companies in some ways both control supply and dictate demand. But even here we the people are not helpless. If we got serious about how we’re killing ourselves with obesity and tobacco and sugar and lack of exercise, and if we ourselves took more responsibility for preventative care, we could take back some power in the supply/demand monopoly held by the power brokers of the medical world.

And back to contentment. There is a joy that comes with living within one’s means, a great sense of satisfaction. We’ve lost that joy. We need to reclaim it.

We’re not lab rats and Pavlovian dogs. We don’t have to say “how high” when the merchants of discontent say “jump.” We need to tell them to go to hell.

We the ordinary American people have power; let’s use it. We control more than meets the eye. Let’s tell Madison Avenue where to stick it and start living like we are responsible and free moral agents.

I know, we the people can’t by ourselves allocate billions of dollars for R&D for alternative energy. We can't build refineries. We can't do a lot of things. There are things only elected officials can do. But we can send pretty powerful signals, not just by words and votes, but even more perhaps by actions.

When patriotism is reduced to “shopping” we’re in deep trouble. Enough is enough. Let’s give ourselves a bitter pill of a good recession on purpose. We’ll get through it. On the other side we’ll be stronger if in fact we have taken back more power and responsibility.

So, damn the torpedoes, let's swallow the bitter pill together. We'll be better off in the long run.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Small Church Blessings

I just updated a very out of date home page on our church web site, and wrote this little blurb. Maybe there is some food for thought here....

Greetings in Christ!

Welcome to the home page of Covenant Fellowship Church, an evangelical Presbyterian Church in beautiful Greensboro, North Carolina.

Back in the 1970's E. F. Schumacher wrote an amazing book that was both very popular and very challenging to the status quo of his day. It was entitled "Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered." It is one of those books I think everyone should read, and which is perhaps more relevant today than ever.

I'd like to see someone write a book called "Small is Beautiful: Doing Church as if People Mattered."

It's hard to try to convey the virtues of being a smaller church (most churches are in fact "smaller" churches - we're about a hundred people) without it sounding like excuse for failure - such is the state of things today in McMansionland.

At Covenant Fellowship we're not trying to be small just to be small; we're trying to go about being the church in a way that mirrors as closely as possible what we read about in the book of Acts and the New Testament letters, and we're trying to do church in a way that focuses on the most essential things.

In Acts chapter two it says of the new church that "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers....And all who believed were together and held all things in common."

There are many such glimpses we get into the life of the early church. When asked by folks what are we really trying to do, when all is said and done, the best answer often is simply that we are "just trying to be the church."

Good small churches don't try to be big churches. They don't aspire to be big churches. Big churches offer many services and ministries and programs a small church cannot offer. Small churches offer many qualities a big church cannot offer. The way to be a good small church is to embrace the smallness as a virtue.

For example, in our church we have very little overhead other than support of the pastor and rental of the Sunday worship space. Thus our members are free to throw themselves into the service of one another and of their neighbors in the community and world with no regard whatsoever as to whether it "grows the church" financially or numerically. This is amazingly freeing. It is wonderful.

In a church of our size all the people know each other, or can realistically know each other, including the little children knowing the retirees, and the single people being friends with couples and families. We don't need name tags. We know who is a visitor and who is a regular. We're not all divided up into a million sub groups. We're like an extended family. This is such a blessing. Our teens actually talk to and know and love our adults - amazing!

Children read Scriptures in public service and everyone has a chance to participate and speak their mind. On a recent Sunday we had a season of open prayer and several very young children - and I mean three to five years old - prayed along with the oldest among us. It was beautiful.

Our services are not rushed. There is no hype. There is plenty of time to catch up and reconnect. There is plenty of time to devote to the apostles' teaching, to prayer, to the breaking of bread, and to loving on another.

Despite our being small God has blessed us with an amazing array of gifted and talented and capable people whom he uses to encourage us in our life and worship.

We commend this way of doing church to anyone coming to our web site. Feel free to browse around, and feel free to visit with us on Sunday at any time. We hope that something in our site will be of encouragement and blessing to you,

In Christ,

Joel Gillespie,
Pastor, Covenant Fellowship

Oh Well

The only bond I really wanted to see passed (Parks and Rec) is one of the only ones that failed. And the two I really wanted to see fail, well, they passed. Hmm.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Those Pesky Bonds

I don’t get to vote in the primaries (being neither Republican or Democrat) but I do get to vote on the bond issues. I’ve been thinking about them for weeks, going back and forth in my mind. There was a time when I approved almost all local bond referendums. The slight increase in taxes didn’t impact me much, and I figured that the local leaders knew what we needed. Well, things are different now.

Here's what I think I am going to do. Feel free to try to change my mind!

1. Parks and Recreation (20.2 million). In terms of bang for the buck I think Parks and Recreation dollars serve the public good more than most other items that appear on bond issues, and I think the particular projects in this bond issue are worth the relatively small price tag. I vote yes.

2. Guilford County Jail (114 million). I am all for more people downtown :-) and I am sympathetic to the plight of folks having to bunk in hallways, but I am not convinced either that all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, that the reason not to renovate has been adequately made clear, or that the impact on downtown parking and ongoing upkeep costs have been fully explained. I wonder too if the entire governmental complex needs a makeover. It is so ugly it is a blight upon a downtown makign a great comeback. I am hesitant on this, but for now, I vote no.

3. GTCC (79.5 million). I think GTCC holds many keys to the success of our area. Both our public schools and our colleges and universities are failing to provide the technical education needed for so many in our area to have the skills needed for decent jobs, and for us to be able to provide skilled workers for a growing and changing economy. I vote yes.

4. Guilford County Schools (412 million). I know of little else other than police and fire protection, and building and highway safety that is more important for a local government to provide than quality education for its citizen’s children. I am a huge advocate of a strong public school system, and the need for quality education for our children, especially in reading. Yet I find it ironic that a project deemed so necessary for our children will burden them with so much debt down the line. Personally, if we had to invest 412 million dollars in our schools I would put it elsewhere than in brick and mortar. In the end, good teachers, good curriculum, and good parent-school communication, and not nice buildings, are the most important things. I taught public school for five years myself. I think I was in five different rooms of greatly varying quality!

The quality of the room or facility was way less important than my knowledge of and love for the subject, my creativity, and my interest in, indeed my earnest care for the students. For me, the bottom line is that I do not trust our school board or central office to allocate and spend our bond money in an efficient and effective manner. Perhaps it is Terry Grier hangover. And we know the way the system works that this 412 million can easily become much greater, and we also know that plans can change and we may not get what we approve anyway. Until we somehow break the stranglehold that the great triumvirate (the teachers “union” – even if it isn’t really, the college education departments, and the local school districts have over teacher certification, until we shake off “One Child Left Behind” which has killed teacher creativity and morale, until we start paying teachers as if we really think what they do is significant, until we stop doing stupid stuff to boost the reputation of our superintendents rather than the well being of our students (like making students take AP classes), and until we offer more and better schooling options for families in the most ill served areas, I won’t approve any more large school bond referendums. I vote no.

5. Eastern High school (45 million). I can’t see 45 mil for a high school, and why it is that we do not have our major infrastructure facilities insured at replacement cost I have no clue, but the folks in the eastern part of our county need a new high school – it’s not their fault they are without a school building, and rented facilities will only work for so long. With suspicion about the cost, I vote yes.