Saturday, March 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today was my mother’s birthday, she would have been 89. She loved God, believed that God was with her all the time, but she also believed that God wanted her to be perfect. So, she spent much of her life miserable inside. She laughed, she played cards with family and later with friends, she cooked and fed half the world, she loved her family. But, in her eyes, whatever she did was never enough.

She was twice divorced, married three times, separated though never divorced from my father 20 years before he died. So she wasn’t a good wife. At least that’s what she thought. I grew up knowing her first husband because he was the father of my friends, although I did not know until just before her death that they had been married earlier. He was a strange critter, and I understand why she couldn’t be a wife to him. When my half brother David died, I spoke with his father, her second husband, and his voice was filled with nothing but love and caring for my mother. I have no doubt that she was a good wife to him. Unfortunately, he “chased the skirts.” But, my father, her Ditty (his name was Delayon), was her only true love. They dated when she was too young to leave the house alone with him. And, she flung him aside when he didn’t give her the promised watch for her high school graduation but a bracelet instead. Several years and two ex-husbands later, Lucy and Ditty did marry and eventually produced me right at the end of World War II. But, because they couldn’t live together, she thought she was a poor wife to him.

Her second goal in life was to be a good mother. My brother married his pregnant girlfriend at age 21 and died in an accident at age 22. I lived a dissolute life with two ex-husbands and a female partner. I had held too many jobs to be considered successful, and she worried that I would end my life as a bag lady. So, she thought she had failed at being a mother.

Her third goal in life was to be a good employee. She worked many years of her life as a faithful clerk in a 5 and 10 cent store making just enough to keep us alive. Then, she worked many more years in the office of a TV cable company. She began as bookkeeper and receptionist when the company only had two employees and the owner. The company grew until she was managing 10 office staff in a tiny open space with diverse work styles and no cubicles. She quelled arguments, dealt with irate customers, and occasionally just “lost it” with frustration. At those times she was convinced she was a poor employee.

So, she failed at the three things she considered to have meaning in her life.

But, I know differently. My dad was an alcoholic; no woman could have been a good wife for him, but he loved her all his life. She was his Lucy, his Sugar no matter what the state of his alcoholic brain.

My brother and I were blessed to have a warm kitchen filled with love and laughter. He and I struggled to find our way in the world without any role models that we could see. Mom taught me to love music about God, music about love, and to sing when I was happy and when I was sad. Mom taught me how to cook and I can make some of the best biscuits and cornbread you’ll ever eat. Mom taught me that God was always with me. Mom showed me that hard work wouldn’t kill you. And, when I burned the cabbage for the jillionth time, she still loved me even though we ate canned beans for supper. She laughed; she took us riding to see the places that had been important in her life. She introduced us to towns that were smaller than ours and people who loved her even though they hadn’t seen her in 20 or 30 years. Mom always wore good looking clothes. She stood on her stove and painted her ceiling in a dress and high heels, albeit with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

When she died, all the office staff of the cable company drove 70 miles to her funeral. They spoke to me of how she had taught them to get along with one another, of how she had taught them how to work with the public – and how she had taught them that it was okay to “lose it” sometimes. And, how they loved her.

In between all that, she welcomed all David’s friends and all my friends into her home. Boys whose parents were isolating or absent. Boys and girls a long way from home in college or the Air Force. She loved each one of them, listened to them, gave them a place to meet, fed them, rolled up her rugs and let them dance in her living room.

She could never understand why people were nice to her. She accepted my girlfriends even as she disapproved of my lifestyle. She did that with my husbands, too. She cried when she was hurt; she sang at all times; she laughed at the crazy turns of life, and she was willing to say at the end, “I’m afraid.”

She was not perfect as a wife, as a mother, or as an employee. She was a loving, caring, nagging, sarcastic, witty, woman who taught me to give people in need the shirt off my back and sometimes the shirt off her back, too.

I was relieved when she died – relieved for the bond between us to be broken for it was too tight, relieved for the release of her pain and fear, relieved that she didn’t outlive her money (with a little help from my partner). She loved me and I love her. I miss her at times, but I’m always grateful that she helped make me a person that I can love and I can say, “I’m the best Margaret that I can be.” Happy Birthday, Mom.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The old lug wheel

I learned to drive on this Case lug-wheel tractor, which we sold when I was about 8 or 9. Staying between the lines when you’re coloring is nothing compared to driving a straight row when you’re plowing. Consequently, I didn’t get to plow, but I got to pull the disk and the harrow where being “straight” is not so important.

I loved mechanical things. One day I took apart an old clock on a table in our backyard; but when I put it back together, it still didn’t run. However, at the slightest movement, it would begin dinging and wouldn’t quit until it ran down. I stood in awe of this machine that would keep doing the same thing over and over without ever moving its hands. For my Mom(whose birthday is tomorrow, God rest her soul), this miracle of mechanical endeavor was a severe detriment to her cooking, and she would come out on the back porch and tell me exactly what would happen to me if I didn’t stop that infernal noise. Punishment with a peach limb on my legs was only one of the things she dreamed up that summer as I fixed more and more broken mechanical items that landed on that wonderful junk table in the back yard.

The table also held innumerable bottles and bowls, discarded use in the house but enjoyed by the birds after a rain. A brown wren (are they all brown?) lived in one my creations and thoroughly enjoyed the white bowl that was chipped on the side. But, the cologne and perfume bottles were my favorites. I could sneak the cake coloring from the shelf over the stove and create all kinds of potions for healing. The nearest I ever got to an explosion was adding baking soda to vinegar. But, my hands and arms proclaimed me a "multi-colored lady" long before I knew any meaning for rainbow stripes.

Then we sold the flatbed truck that I was learning to drive backwards and forwards in our driveway. The table went away because its top was the sideboards to the flatbed. All those magnificent mechanical “toys” and bottles were taken to the dump. And, my start as an engineer or chemist was foiled before I was 8.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I wasn’t 8 or 9 years old when this picture was made. When Dad went back in the Navy, we sold our tractor to a farmer down the road. That farmer’s son now owns the dealership, and our old Case is sitting in front of his business. Needless to say I cried over that old tractor when I found out that it had been ours – some 50 years after I’d seen it the last time. I just hope that God will say to me as I said to that lug wheel – “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Does God have a plan for me?

The Eye of God or the Helix Nebula, a composite picture from the Hubbel space telescope and Kitt Peak Observatory

Cecilia commented on my last post that “I can tell I'm in a spiritual mess when I don't want to pray-- don't want to conform my will to God's.” And, I couldn’t agree more with the first part of that statement. I probably agree with the last part because we tend to think somewhat alike, but the will of God has been misconstrued so many times in so many ways that I need to write what I think about the will of God.

Living in the South, when someone says “the will of God’, they usually mean “God’s plan”, and, frequently, they believe that God has a plan for every moment of their lives. It is God’s will that they took a wrong turn and ended up in a bad section of town with a flat tire. They, obviously, needed to learn something from that – perhaps to pay attention to where you’re going or to take better care of God’s blessings.

I don’t believe that God has a plan for my life beyond being Margaret, the best Margaret that can be. I believe that God can guide me in my journey and can help me turn evil into good, but I don’t think that God plans each step of the way. God could, but it seems a useless waste of free will not to mention intelligence if God is going to map out the journey, guide me along the path, and all I have to do is follow meekly along. Not that I’m very good about following paths; my partner and I joke that one of the things we do best is to go in circles. And, I’m not meek nor do I want to inherit the earth.

God’s will/plan for my life is four-fold. 1) to love God, 2) to love my neighbors, 3) to enjoy life, and 4) to leave this world a better place for my having been here. That’s a big chunk of will for me. I do think that God leaves it up to me as to how I get those things done. And, I do make mistakes; I do go in circles and I do say NO when I should say yes.

If I’m in relationship with God through prayer, meditation, cursing the world and repenting of my evil thoughts, then I am able to do those things fairly well. I keep improving as I go along, but I’m never going to be perfect at any of it, and God’s not going to count the times I fail. God’s interested in the fact that I’m making the journey and that I have a concept of the divine desire for life. I believe in an abundance of life, gifts from God and God’s right hands here on earth for me to use along the way. I’ll take all the help I can get, thank you. Once again, I’m reminded of Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire’, who said, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

The Hebrew Scriptures are full of stories about ancient concepts of God and stories that tell us how to live and how not to live our lives. The New Testament is more specific with statements from Jesus/God about how to make this business of life go better. That’s a good place to find God’s will. But, it’s not specific to my situation in the here and now. I have to interpret and to pick and choose those passages that seem to apply best at the time. And, if, that’s a big IF, I’m in a good relationship with God, then I seem to choose the passages well. But, woe betides me if I go into the Bible looking for specific answers and guidance. I get so confused and I put the Bible down to look for another guide…usually my own desires. Then, I go in circles or, worse yet, backwards.

If the passages that keep coming forward in my prayer are against my desires (for I nearly always have an opinion), then I’m like the fellow hanging on the cliff crying to God for help. God says, “Let go.” The cry and the answer are repeated several times (I don’t get the idea very quickly either), when finally, the man says, “Is there anybody else up there?” I don’t easily believe that the best Margaret will be found in a direction contrary to my hopes and desires. Sometimes I listen; sometimes I don’t. I’m still learning.

God’s will and God’s plan for me can look to the future and project it through the end. But, every choice that I make changes that plan; bad choices and bad relationships can abort the whole process for a time. Sometimes, when I’m in sync with God, I do well with parts of the four-fold plan above. Never perfect, never completely imperfect, but a journey in relationship with a divine being who is beyond my comprehension yet loves me enough to keep on trucking along with me.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Someone once told me that prayer doesn’t change God’s mind but it does change your own mind. Another person said, “When you sing, you pray twice.” I’ve always questioned what was the essence of prayer. Somewhere along the line I learned about the seven different kinds of prayer – praise, petition, gratitude, penitence, adoration, - someone help me out here, I can’t remember them all any longer. Once I had to pray in a different mode each week as a spiritual exercise. I found it difficult to differentiate between praise and adoration. But, I’m not sure it matters. What seems to matter is that we do pray.

We bring energy from our hearts and minds and translate it into words – silent or spoken – words that carry our emotions, our thoughts, our yearnings. We hear them. We taste them. These words carry a reality that we may have only partially acknowledged to ourselves – then, there they are – right out there where I can see, hear, touch them – and surely God can do the same.

Do our words change God’s mind? I don’t know. Perhaps. I do believe that God can change the divine will, and I do believe that actions here on earth change situations so that God’s perfect desires can’t become reality. We speak that reality when we make petitioning prayers especially. The reality that falls short of what we want to be true, and possibly short of what God wants to be true.

Does God change? Probably not. God’s desire is the same; how it becomes reality changes with every action on earth. Just as the idea of a butterfly in Africa changing the weather pattern in North America, each decision we make changes how God’s desire is achieved. And, prayer is action. No prayer is wasted, even when our petitionary prayers seem to be answered with a big fat “NO.” The energy that we have put into that prayer moves through the universe like the fluttering of a butterfly wing, subtly changing the way the divine desire for goodness happens.

We may perceive a change in ourselves, or we may see our prayers answered in ways that we didn’t intend. If we pray for a person’s pain to cease and that person dies, what was the effect our prayer on the outcome? Nothing. The true cause. Probably neither. The effect of our prayer was an outpouring of love that took energy in the form of prayer and moved around the world. For love is an energy that never dies.

So, what does happen when we pray? Certainly we are changed in the moment that our thoughts become words or non-words or music or sighs. The laws of science say that no energy is ever lost (now don’t get me into the nitty-gritty of energy conservation theory); so the energy that we put forth goes forth, changes form carrying the goodness or evilness that we put into it – the positive or the negative. And, that energy is perhaps picked up by the neighbor who suddenly experiences a lifting of spirits or the nearby deer stops instead of crossing the road.

No, I don’t know what happens when we pray, but I’m certain that something happens. All my thoughts about prayer are speculation. I hope that goodness happens from my prayers, but I know that I have evil thoughts that take on energy as well, energy that changes me negatively. That negative energy goes somewhere, back inside me, out to sustain more evil in the world. I don’t know. That’s the real crux of it. I don’t know. But, I do know that I must pray; for in praying, I know myself, my world and my perception of God much better. I trust, totally without reason, that my intentional good prayers will be much greater than my occasional nasty thoughts.

New site discovery

As a farm girl who is thoroughly grounded in growing things and making things out of wood, I enjoyed a blog by a retired teacher out west, Sawdust Musing . Go visit him and smell his roses.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Today I stumbled across a mention of Kathryn Tanner, theologian at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and author of a number of interesting sounding books. She is/was doing a lecture series that was being summarized and reviewed by the blogger at the Fire and the Rose.

I remember sitting beside David Tracy, who also taught theology at Chicago, at a dinner at Sewanee (University of the South) one night. Professor Bob Hughes of the Divinity School was sitting on my other side, and they were talking across me, the public relations person reporting about this gathering and Tracy’s lecture. I swear to you that they were speaking a foreign language that is found only among professors of theology. At some point early in the evening, I asked Bob to change seats with me so they could converse easier. My neck was getting whiplash looking from one to the other as they bandied words that I couldn’t even pronounce much less understand. And, I kept some of them in mind after leaving. Upon checking theological dictionaries, I concluded that they were making up words that were combinations of Greek, Hebrew and ancient Aramaic. Later, I checked Tracy’s books, and the words were there, too.

Now Tanner didn’t seem to be making up words, but the summarizer was putting in terms that just didn’t mean anything to me – and they probably should since I’ve been to seminary. But, “apophatic” was not in my vocabulary, thank you. I finally discovered that it means proving something by stating what it is not.

Martin Buber did that in I And Thou. God is other. And, Buber can be understood by most non-scholars. I don’t know if Tanner was speaking in theologese, but her summarizer was. Her book titles sound interesting. Unfortunately, I know I’m not close enough to any library that would have them; otherwise, I would check out the books to see if she writes in terms that I can comprehend fairly easily or if they would be repeats of the night with Hughes and Tracy.

I do believe in the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid, even as I recognize that some topics do require specialized language. It’s enough for me that humanity is created in the image of God. God is beyond our understanding, but we see God in the faces of our neighbors, near and far. Telling me that humanity is an image of the Image of God, who is the second part of the Trinity really doesn’t tell me much of anything except that we see through the glass darkly. And, that was just Lecture 1. I may try the other summaries of the lectures, but I doubt that they will improve my theology or my faith. Maybe I’ll just play the meeting game and see how many words I don’t understand or sentences that mean nothing to me.

I might even try the inter-library loan program to see if her books make sense to me. Now, I know why systematic theology was so difficult for me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What has and has not been decided

Recently Bishop Chris Epting on his blog pointed out that the House of Bishops had made clear that the primatial vicar plan was out of sync with the polity of the Episcopal Church. He also made it clear that responses on the other issues brought up in the Primates Communiqué had not be “ruled” upon because the Executive Council and the HOB both have studies underway as to process, theology and proper response.

This is typical of Chris, who was my ex-husband’s best friend in his youth. He wants everyone to understand and be very clear about the process and what has and has not been decided. In the time I have known and known of Chris, he has stood slightly to the right of middle, but his tact and diplomacy are undoubtedly of good use in his function as Ecumenical officer for the church.

The headlines in blogdom and the printed media seem to indicate that the House of Bishops has rejected the Communiqué in its entirety. This is not true. While they have affirmed the place of the GLBT persons in the Episcopal Church, they are proceeding according to church polity (decisions made by General Convention that include bishops, priests and laity). I am pleased that they are doing this. To deviate from our polity in the face of pressure from the Primates would mean that my inclusion in the church was in danger. If the House of Bishops alone could decide that no GLBT person (or anyone who might call into doubt the beliefs of another national church) could be consecrated bishop, it’s just a step before they decide, as Nigeria may be doing, that gays don’t belong in the church at all.

Of course, I am glad to see various bishops state their own beliefs about the Communiqué and its demands, but they are not the entire church – not the right nor the left. We are all the church. Right now, each one of us matters in making this decision. I am not leaving the church or feeling afraid because they are following the canon law as set forth by our General Convention. I am saddened that some bishops and people cannot see that GLBT folk are very much like themselves. We eat, sleep, vote, work, pay taxes and worship in the same manner. We are glad, sad, angry, or content just like they are. We have children and are single. We care for the elderly and the sick. We tithe and we work within the church and without.

However, in the midst of our following proper procedures, the rest of the Anglican Communion and certain parts of our Episcopal Church have no compunction about going ahead with plans to secede from the Episcopal Church or to push us out of the Communion. I’m not sure the Anglican Communion as a whole will allow the US church to be pushed out. Many other churches are only a step behind us in our interpretation of the gospel. We may see a different communion spring forth in response to the various interpretations of Holy Scripture, but I believe they will be called by another name. Maybe not. This is just my opinion.

Right now, I am secure in the knowledge that our House of Bishops and the Executive Council are following the steps that we, the entirety of the Episcopal Church, have set out as proper procedures. Lord, give me patience, but hurry!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Our soldiers

As I was wheeled through the Atlanta airport again, the only available seating at our gate was amongst a group of young servicemen returning from Iraq on two-week leave. They grinned at the white haired, red-hatted old lady in jeans, and began to talk with me.

While it’s true that I live in a military area with various bases all around us, and while I often see service people in their uniforms, I was moved to see so many really young men in desert fatigues. Those light tan desert boots, looking almost like athletic shoes, suddenly made me realize that these were the kids I saw in the statistics. These kids had left homes and families and jobs to go there and supposedly make a better life for Iraqis and Americans. And, they were kids. Admittedly, kids who had grown up long before they should have done so, but kids. Little more than seniors in high school.

One guy was going to visit friends; one was going home to parents; and one older guy was going home to his wife, two daughters, a son and a niece recently adopted. Three teenage daughters and a pre-teen son. I heard him say to his wife on the phone, “I’ll take care of that when I’m home.” How difficult it must be to rear a family when one person is absent! How much time and effort the mother must make! And, he was tired, not just from the long traveling, but bone weary. He talked about how the weather was warming up but it was still cold at night, 80s in the daytime. He talked about having some air conditioned rooms and how some soldiers still had only tents.

And, they all wanted to talk about ordinary things – not Iraq, not the government, not even their families much. They wanted to know Was my hot dog good? Where was I going? Why was I so excited about the pandas? Where did I come from? Was I retired? The ordinary conversation of old ladies and young polite men…if such ordinariness exists. They tried to smile, but the smiles were tired and weak.

I told them I prayed for our troops but that I didn’t have faces for them until now. And, now I do. I see that tall fellow in the sunglasses that sat a couple of seats from me. I imagine him in full dress fatigues with his pack. And, I almost cry. They need a good grandmother there – one who will bake for them and listen to them and sit quietly with them. They need us all to pray for them, and, as one said, “Pray for America, too.”

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you. Amen.

Carnival of Lent - making a space

Hi folks, back from Atlanta’s panda land. Still sick and without a firm diagnosis – premature to be definitive says the doc – still not looking as if it is life-threatening.

Your prayers for my strength and energy during this time of recovery would be appreciated.

Now. We have had this Carnival of Lent – meditations on particular topics. And, I am hosting next week’s session with the topic of “Making a Space”. Please send your link and a short blurb about your piece to marsmoore at suddenlink dot net. And, let others know about our discussion/meditations – invite them to participate.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Seeing the baby panda

Mama Lun Lun eating bamboo

Papa Panda Yang Yang

Red panda looks like raccoon

Baby Panda Mei Lan asleep

Speak truth

While others are examining the lack of consents for the bishop-elect of South Carolina and others are debating the proper use of secular material at funerals, I am sitting in an Atlanta hotel room, waiting to feel well enough to even go home. This is not self-pity because the hotel room is quiet, comfortable and doesn’t have two beloved cats crawling all over me. I get fed and watered and pampered.

Dennis, Grandmere Mimi and Rev Sam debate why Jesus died on the cross, and all I can think is “It’s the Incarnation that matters, not the resurrection.” But, that puts me clearly in a heretical viewpoint when I deny substitutionary atonement. I just want to get that poor tortured man down off that cross. Like some who commented on Wounded Bird, I believe that Jesus, the Christ, died for us but not necessarily as a sacrifice to God so our sins would be forgiven. I've put away my many crosses because I think "that's not what this is all about; it's about Jesus life and ministry."

God’s been forgiving sins for a long time, and, at various places in the Bible, God says that sacrifices of animals and such are not good – a contrite heart is. So here comes Jesus to lead us into this contrite heart business by bringing us closer to God and by letting God know what it is like to be human. Jesus is saying and doing things contrary to the majority opinion at the time – secular and religious. So, like a lame-duck informant, Jesus has to go. Crucifying him as a common criminal would likely stop his following, they thought.

Unfortunately, they did not recognize that Jesus was the Christ, God incarnate. And, so, God lives within our hearts and minds and souls much closer than if the Christ had not come. Jesus’ death on the cross is a stark reminder of the lengths to which God will go to maintain a relationship with us. It is truth spoken to power with terrifying results of crucifixion.

Christians in many places are speaking this same truth to power with similar terrifying results. I am not now though I did for a number of years. I’m tired, and I’ve been sick for a long time, and all I want right now is to feel better enough to tell some friends who have asked about Creation Theology. I have a little energy left to keep telling the Good News to those who wish to hear. The rest of you will have to deal with the lack of signatures on consents, the handling of funerals, and the heavier theological issues. Not that I don’t have opinions about things nor that I don’t enjoy the debates, but I don’t have the energy to preach to the choir. Y’all are doing a good job of keeping us on our toes and our voices in good order.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh Atlanta, Oh Atlanta

Whee, doggies. There’s nothing like going through the Atlanta Airport in a wheelchair being pushed by a man in a hurry! We landed on Concourse C, and in less than 15 minutes, he had moved us through all the elevators (which are not nearly as convenient to places as the escalators), onto the train, off the train, picked up our baggage and had us on the rental car bus.

Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep them doggies rolling…..Well, Rawhide, he wasn’t, but it’s the only way to go when you don’t breathe very well.

Driving in Atlanta was not nearly the challenge I remember. We took one wrong turn and were able to correct that very quickly. I did see an Antiochian Orthodox Church building – never knew that church existed. We found our motel easily, had a wonderful dinner with friends – that good fried chicken at Watershed.

After my mother died, I had given her bed to them. It’s old with caned inserts in head and foot board and a fancy raised appliqué of flowers and stuff in the center of each. She had always painted it ivory. They painted it dark purple, and it was gorgeous!!! Seeing someone enjoy it was a delight, especially knowing that my friends had given new life to an old story.

And, they have my great grandmother’s chairs, dark with a pale birch table. And, Mom’s sewing rocker is gaining new life in their living room. Other tidbits were sprinkled around their house, and my heart was pleased to see the things of my memory were making new memories.

Here, it’s air conditioning time, especially in the motel with no windows to open. Tomorrow we are all going to the zoo to see Mei Lan, the panda cub…rain or shine. Then maybe it’s on to a bookstore or to the Ikea showroom. Small town girl on a spree in the big city! Whooee. Smell that plastic burning.

See how easy it is to forget about the church’s troubles, the nation’s troubles, and just relax. I bought a couple of fluffy pillows to enjoy for this trip, and I’m full of good food, happy talk with friends, and the prospect of a good night’s sleep and a fun day tomorrow.

To my friends in the blogsphere, remember to keep MadPriest on his toes, and Cecelia in your prayers.

Off to Mississippi

Well, folks, I’m off to the great green land of Mississippi today. While there I shall be ignored by only living uncle and royally feted by my first cousin and his family. And, I shall buy McCarty pottery. When I return to Atlanta to fly home, I shall see the baby panda, Mei Lan, whom I have watched on video cam since she was born in September. And, I shall visit with a long-time friend. So, I probably won’t be posting much unless I have a connection in Atlanta. See y’all later.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Eagles Have Gone

photo by Timothy K. Hamilton

It’s another night of the two o’clock feeding – not a baby – feeding me. And, another night of the two o’clock memories. I’m sure they are triggered by the fact that next week I go to Mississippi where most of the memories take place.

Tonight I’m remembering a Sunday afternoon drive, Mom, David and me. We liked to ramble through the places where Mom used to live, and she’d tell us stories about the people, her life and the places.

One of my favorite stories is about Eagle’s Nest Bayou, a stand of cypress trees that stood in the middle cotton fields by the time I was along. Mom wanted us to see the nest in case we never had a chance to see one again. She called this a little bit of nature’s heaven and remembered it in her childhood as being a large bayou with lots of cypress trees and lots of knees and scary scrub brush that grew around it as the land rose from the bayou waters. Eagles had lived there most of her life, and she was in her late 30s then. She said you could see the babies poking their heads up from the nest as you drove along the narrow road that skirted the bayou. And, she talked about the majesty of seeing the eagles hunting in the late afternoon as they swooped along the edges of the much smaller cotton fields – hunting mice and other small creatures to feed the family.

Other nests spotted the small bayous and ranged along the banks of the Mississippi River not far away. Not as common as blackbirds and still majestic enough to take away your breath, the eagles lived in harmony with the people and the crops. Farming was done with mules and work horses; so even the noise in the cotton fields did not disturb them. She and my Dad used to court by going in search of eagles’ nests in the area around her home – driving along on Sunday afternoons just as we were doing.

Then tractors came, and bulldozers made the bayous smaller. The fields were dusty and noisy. Still the eagles stayed though fewer in number. Mom remembered how you found nests only in certain places then, behind the levee of the river, in larger bayous and mostly out of sight of the roads.

I think I remember seeing an eagle once at Eagles Nest Bayou, which was near Jonestown, Mississippi. But, by the time I was 10 (that was 1955), only the crumbling nest remained in a tiny little bayou no bigger than an olympic size swimming pool. No eagles had been there for some time. The trees holding the nest had no protection from the dust and insecticides of the cotton fields that ranged for acres all around. Crop dusters sprayed chemicals in the fields around the bayou killing the boll weevils but also the small bugs and critters that fed the small mammals which were food for the eagles. The image of that abandoned nest is seared in my mind with what seemed like hopeless love. I yearned to see the big birds take flight, to watch diligently for the little beaks that might peek over the top of the nest. And, I cherished Mom’s memories of being around the great creatures.

I have had the joy of seeing the great eagles – driving along I-40 crossing from North Carolina into Tennessee, one swooped down from the heights of the mountain toward the river on the other side of the road. The truck driver beside me and I both nearly ran off the road watching this startling sight. And, I’ve seen one recently slowly moving along Highway 17 with something in its beak.

However, not as majestic but awesome still, the ospreys nested in a tall pine tree across the creek from our house. They’re used to the noise of the power boats and the jet skis. I watched this past year as the nest was refurbished and finally got to see little beaks peeking up over the top of the nest. I remembered Eagles Nest Bayou and I was grateful that these beautiful birds had been able to adapt to a changing habitat.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Father Brother God

My Brother David and Uncle Ralph's car

One day a few years ago in therapy I talked about loss, abandonment. My therapist asked when I realized that my Dad was gone and wasn’t coming back except for annual leave timefrom the Navy. I thought for a while, but I realized that I don’t remember missing him. I talked about what I did remember. “Daddy, pickie-toe” (how my Dad would take his big fingers and run them between my little toes, one by one, to remove the dust bunnies from my socks) and how I still do that every night. Such a powerful feeling of being taken care of. And, I cried.

I wonder if that’s what it’s like to call God Father. Does the word father convey such strength and security to most people? Is that what fathers are like? I have only two memories of my father when he wasn’t drunk. One is the nightly event, “pickie-toe”, and the other is of his teaching me how to shoot a gun for the first time.

Yet, if I could call to God, “Daddy, pickie-toe”, I wonder how I would feel. God is something ethereal to me most of the time. Present but not real, not tangible. Only when I feel God’s tangible presence am I truly moved in my ministry. I can see God in the persons with whom I work and interact, but I don’t have “ideal” images of God - only bits and pieces gleaned from the faces and beings of humans, tidbits that hint at something greater.

And, could I call Jesus brother? I felt that my brother who loved me so much and taught me so much deserted me and died when I needed him most. I understand why the disciples felt so abandoned. Why didn’t Jesus speak up to the authorities? Why didn’t he save himself? Where is the salvation in a brother who abandons you and the cause just when he’s needed most?

And, the Bible says that Jesus died to save me - substitutionary sacrifice/punishment. That doesn’t ring true. And, the parallel with my brother ends there. He did not die to save me; he did not intend to die. I wonder if Jesus intended to die. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just knew that nothing he said would change the inevitable. Eventually, the “church powers” would feel so threatened by his interpretation of God that they would have to get rid of him in order to maintain power.

And, Jesus rose from the dead. I have often felt my brother’s presence with me - less as I grow older and further away from his living days. Maybe that’s why we continue to tell the story; so that we won’t lose the presence. And, maybe the story-telling helps us continue to find God’s presence. The prescriptions for living are well and good, but they don’t have the power to move us that stories have.
Written in June 2003, Revised March 2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Others' stories I tell

Grandmother and Grandmother (seated right) with her sisters

February 2005: I want to ask questions, but I know they have no answers now…at least not right now. Why do I think so much? Am I charged with keeping memories/souls alive by my remembering? Why me? When I listen, why do I hear the wind of some other year, some other place, some other whispering? The images flood my half and half soul, the one that only exists in that time between awake and asleep. The voices replay their conversations again and again, and I wonder, “What did I miss the first ten thousand times I heard this?” What’s the secret and why can’t I figure this out?

I rub my face and scratch my scalp with blunt nailed fingers, pushing away others questions. My Mom asking, “Where did my brother sleep?” Susan asking, “How will I talk to a judge?” Bill’s “I made a commitment.” Laurie’s “You do what you have to do.” My cousin Joyce saying, “I didn’t know if you even liked me.” Sandy’s “Are you sure it’s okay if I come.”

They eventually answer these questions themselves, but I am left to ponder my part in the conversation. Perhaps I am like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; it receives the petitions, questions, thanks and whatever the people have to say or not say. But its part is only to be there. If it were not there, they would go somewhere else if somewhere else were handy. We need people who can hear our words, places where it’s safe to ask questions.

And, I need a place where I can safely say (even though not to the questioner), “Thank God she’s dead.” “Your daughter would be better off in a group home for a while.” “Your stress is killing the good parts of you.” “It doesn’t matter whether I like you or not; I love you.”

And, then I keep remembering, dialogs with an 18-year-old student a long way from home – did I make a difference? Did I say the right things? How can I watch those I love die? Why did my great-grandparents send my grandmother away to live with someone else? Where did my father go when he passed out from drinking? Did my mother really think that he would change? Why do you hang on after the time has come for going? Whose voice am I hearing now? Doesn’t all the pain seem to run together and make a chorus of lamentation? Why does this noise come at some times and not others?

How did I get into this desert anyway?

March 2007: Still the questions come, still the people won’t stay dead, still the conversations play again and again, and new ones. At night I close my eyes and I can feel my grandmother’s flannel nightgown against my legs and her relief that the day is over. Still I wonder why she was sent away, and was she hungry? After a family meal at her home, we’d find her behind the kitchen door stuffing food into her mouth.

Susan’s still talking to judges but questioning her own ability to keep life together. Bill’s commitments grow year by year, and he’s not getting any younger. Joyce has disappeared into the ex-pat community on the coast of Mexico, as far from her memories as she can get.

And, other voices from the past have joined these – rather images, the voices aren’t so clear. My gentle loving brother, a picture of him with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other? Why? Was it what was expected of him then, when we lived on the farm in Mississippi? My four-year-old rotund cousin whose mother used him as a pawn for her own safety and welfare – now a rotund man who is stoic and lets feeling in so slowly.

A discussion with a friend tonight about my Mother’s fears and how she thought she had led an unsatisfactory life and worried about dying. Others’ pains and torments become my pain and torment. “Boundaries in the Mind” The joy and sense of fulfillment is harder to reach, hidden more deeply, but all recorded somewhere in my being.

So, I tell the stories – factual, maybe; true, always. My own questions and searching stifled now by the voices, the pictures, the stories of those in my past.

Clyde is back!

Hey folks, Clyde is back HERE

How did I miss this? Visit him soon if you haven't already.

Penitence and Forgiveness

Let’s talk about this confession business. The Roman Catholics got in trouble with indulgences, selling forgiveness of sins for money for the church. The worse the sin, the more it cost you. And, the poor people still had confession with penances and the disrespect of the curia since they didn't have money to give.

So the Protestants came along, and the Church of England split from Rome. But, confession of sins was still a fixture in most churches...not necessarily private confession of sin, but a corporate, public confession that the whole church is made of sinners. They didn’t have to enumerate their sins, say special prayers or pay money, but they were expected to live their lives differently in the future.

So, here comes the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church, and confessions are corporate and short. There’s a form for private confession, but most people never see it and others use it once during Lent. "Oh yeah, God, I did some things today that I shouldn’t have done and I probably didn’t do some things I should have done, forgive me." The silence at the beginning of the confession gets shorter and shorter, and a person doesn’t have time to reflect on the day’s sins or the week’s sins or just times when he/she has fallen short of being the best possible.

But, once a year, we dig out the Litany of Penitence for Ash Wednesday service. We get ashes on our forehead and reminded that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. This “dust to dust” business is also used in the burial service. So, the ashes remind us that we’re going to die. No doubt about it. Someday we will die. Then what?

We won’t go into the punishment for unforgiven sins or unrepentant sinners, nor we will go into the rewards for those who have repented and lived new lives. That’s another day.

This Litany of Penitence is modern day words that touch our lives. My partner and I are saying this litany along with a short prayer service every night during Lent. Hummmm. I have learned more about how I can sin and do sin in these couple of weeks than I ever wanted to know. Let’s look at the bulk of the prayer, and you’ll see what I mean.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. (No doubt about it, I’m truly guilty of this. Too hard to do, especially all the time.)
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. (And Jesus indicated that our neighbors were nearby and far off – not just people who live near us – Do you love those despots over in Iran or Korea?)
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. (How many times have you said, “I forgive you.”? Or for that matter, how many times has someone asked your forgiveness?)
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
(Well, I went to seminary, but I probably didn’t make enough effort to get ordained. I did serve in some ways, and then I quit. I have turned a deaf ear to God many times.)
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. (Do I really know the Mind of Christ?)
We have grieved your Holy Spirit. (Not something I really want to do.)
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
The pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

(Now here we have all the times when I’ve said I would do something and didn’t do it – unfaithful, to God, to my friends. And, pride – whooo-eee- my Mom said I didn’t know the meaning of the word humility. Hypocrisy – I can be anything you want me to be if I’m trying to convince you to give money to my favorite cause. And, I surely don’t live by the same words that I tell others they should. And, then, we have that bugaboo “impatience” – Lord, give me patience, but hurry.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self indulgent appetites and ways, (Does that include the chocolates I keep hidden near my desk and the seeking to fulfill my own desires, sometimes at the cost of...)
and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, (Oh, Lord, you must have had this one written for me. I get so frustrated. Her life would be so much better if she’d just do what I tell her. And, I really want to know exactly what’s wrong with me and how we can fix it or if I’m going to have to live with it – and no one has the answers yet and maybe not ever.)
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, (I wish I had....., enough said)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, (Here’s another one that kicks me in the stomach – all those towels I bought, all the soft blankets, and how many pair of shoes doe I really need?)
And our dishonesty in daily life and work, (Well, here at least, Lord, I try.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, (Lenten discipline is good, now if I could just keep it up all the time. And, I know I could find a worship service that I could attend somewhere, God. I’m just too lazy and too sick lately to do that. Is that a good enough excuse?)
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, (Here again, God, I try.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
(I don’t even see people here who might be homeless or hungry, never mind remembering all those people in other countries who are facing starvation or death or war.)
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, (Okay, so I get riled up about one thing or another, but I don’t do much anymore.)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, (I am one of the most judgmental people I know – all the time making snap judgments based on how they look, how they talk, where they live, how they dress.)
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, (Specifically, how many times have I said someone was crazy – someone who lived nearby – never mind those far off.)
and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, (All those fundamentalists, Lord, and the conservatives, I don’t see how you put up with them.)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, (Ugh, I don’t think joining Sierra Club counts as penance enough for all that this generation is doing to the world.)
and our lack of concern for those who come after us, (I don’t have kids; so why should I worry?)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

(Now here’s the kicker, God. I’m asking you to forgive me for all this stuff that I’ve done wrong and stuff that I’m likely to do again even though I think I won’t. And, you do. You do it. I don’t know why, God.)

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
(Oh boy, I’m going to show forth God’s glory? However, can that happen with one such as I?)

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Do you know how many sins you can remember when you say this every night, night after night? A lot.

But, the kicker is right there near the end – “Accomplish in us the work of your salvation...and Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.” Okay, God. I guess you can do all this, but I know you’re working hard on me, and, if others are like me, then you have a Herculean task.

Just keep remembering, God, that you love me, and I’ll keep examining my life and trying to do better. Amen.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Dutch and Mary" stories

Mom in wagon without hat, maybe Dutch standing beside her, Mema in big hat

At age four, Mom picked up an axe standing beside the doorstep; the axe slipped and cut her leg very badly. She screamed and Mema (her mother) came running. Mema screamed and Mary came running. Mary was the black woman who “helped out”. Mary somehow got her husband Dutch and they took care of Mom’s leg. I don’t know if they took her to the doctor or whether they just bandaged it themselves. But, I do know that Dutch took care of it!

When I was about nine, I remember seeing Mom in her mid-forties visiting Mary, who took Mom into her lap and rocked her on the porch of her weathered frame house near the cotton fields and the swamp in the Mississippi delta near Jonestown. Mom was so comforted and looked so peaceful. Maybe that was the last time I saw her look peaceful and comforted. She knew Mary was taking care of her.

When Mom talked about her childhood, she talked more about Dutch and Mary than about her own parents. Dutch was often the babysitter at night. She said he would sit in the living room and watch her do her homework at the kitchen table, reflected in the mirror above the fireplace. Dutch wore glasses, little round glasses that sat on the end of his nose, and he’d tilt his head, look over the glasses and say, “Now, Miss Lucille, you don’t look to me like you’re working on that math.”

When Mom told “Dutch and Mary” stories, her eyes would get teary, and her laughter was soft. We had no doubt that the love she felt for them was reciprocated many times over. They taught her; they reproved her; they loved her.

Today, I am comforted by Mary and Dutch. Their love spills over into my life, Mom dead six years and them gone many years ago. They would have loved me just as they loved my mother, and somehow, I believe they do.

I suppose God’s love is made tangible through the many “Mary and Dutch” people we know in our lives.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More about poverty

On Sunday, I wrote about deep poverty, and I’ve spent considerable time on the internet looking at articles and books about poverty and its causes. When asked, most people cite drug abuse as the number one cause of poverty. The second most cited answer was medical bills. Only listed as third was the lack of full time good paying jobs. (

As a former director of an ecumenical social service organization, I encountered poverty and deep poverty many times. Substance abuse was rampant in some of the people we met and served. Not so in others. Many families moved in and out of poverty for many reasons. Medical bills are certainly a contributing factor. Lack of economic opportunity was a great factor. Jobs for the unskilled were often temporary, part-time, low-paying work that was unstable. Taking care of basic needs and escaping the hopelessness of their situation were primary objectives of the families. Looking beyond that in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was impossible. Development of cultural capital and a sense of ability to function in the world were not considered.

I believe that our best hope of eradicating poverty is to work ceaselessly with children and young people. While we need to continue the care we give families, we must help our youngsters to dream not only of meeting basic needs for themselves but also to reach for those values higher on the Maslow scale. We must find ways to interest them in education, the arts, playing sports, and help them find the support they need to continue these activities – even when their families do not care or are unable to care.

I suspect that I grew up in poverty. My Mom worked as a clerk in a variety store and my Dad was the town drunk. We lived on the farm; so I never went hungry; we raised produce and preserved it for winter months. But, I do remember meatless days. Our heat was a wood stove in the kitchen although we had bottled gas for our cook stove. Our water came from a pump at the edge of the back porch, and our bathroom was an outhouse.

But, education was stressed. So was employment; I began working at the variety store as soon as I was old enough. After my father went away, we had valuable family time to read, to look at pictures of art, to listen to the radio, to sing, to talk about our extended family and play games together. Our school classes made many field trips to places of history and culture. I was rich in a cultural way. Poverty did not become a way of life in our family, and I suspect this cultural richness is one reason why we grew into the middle class.

Recently, one of my friends, Melissa, studying sociology of culture at Emory, talked with me about a paper she is writing. Her topic is: For middle class children, do having parents who were also raised middle class affect the odds that a child currently participates in high art activities? Her hypothesis using statistics from studies done in The Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) is that the longer a family stays in the middle class, the more likely the children are to accumulate cultural capital.

Drawing intuitively from this information and my own experience, I think that the longer a family stays out of poverty, the less likely they will fall back into poverty. The children are more likely to have their basic needs fulfilled and thus be able to concentrate more on education, job training, arts and other poverty-fighting cultural capital.

And, yes, I recognize that the polity of our country must change to include living incomes, affordable housing, and other structures to make the jump from poverty sustainable.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Anger and Quiet Time

Anger is one of my besetting sins (one of Mom’s expressions), and I have been working on it in therapy for some time – the last few sessions most recently. I won’t try to psychologize anger or explain my anger except to say that severe control is needed to keep it from being violent – not toward people, but throwing things, breaking things. I threw my favorite tea cup against a door while I was in seminary and I have regretted that ever since. I think that was my first real recognition that I had a problem with anger.

Frustration most usually prompts my anger – at being inadequate, being sick, being broke, being unmotivated. Well, you get the idea.

Anger was my first reaction to the Communiqué from the Primates Meeting. Anger was my first reaction to the Windsor Report.

In thinking about my anger through many therapy sessions, I have learned that I must withdraw from the situation first. I cannot think clearly while the anger rages. Fortunately, my rage is short-lived. So, I go away from the source of the anger and distract myself with something – computer games, science fiction books, making something fun for someone else. Or I sit quietly and fume for a bit. Or grab a crossword puzzle book. That time away allow my rage to soften from hurricane to gale force.

Only when the intensity of my anger has abated can I even begin to think about what has happened, what fear spawned the anger. I can’t even identify thoughts and emotions that led up to the anger until I have been away from it for a bit. Then I can replay the scene, the words, the thoughts, the feelings.

Usually I discuss the situation with someone else – my partner, my IM buddy and long time friend, my new friend, my wonderful Godson, and my therapist. But, I can’t do any of that until I have spent the time away from the problem, away from the furious anger. I must let the desire to break things bleed away in the quiet space I create.

Lent is a time of fasting, and the LGBT community has especially been asked to fast for a season. But, perhaps this fasting is what the entire world community needs – a time to be away from the situation, to focus on other things, to let the subconscious process what has happened. I think our reigning government needs to fast about the war in Iraq. Going at it slam-bam is like my breaking or throwing things. Unfortunately, the broken are our own young people in this case, and the thousands who are dying in Iraq.

I think quiet time and processing time is essential to making good decisions and learning to live better lives. Our minds take the facts that we have and turn them, twist them, connect them in patterns to other patterns, and we often reach a very different conclusion than we had expected.

Perhaps our entire religious community needs to fast for a season to give us time to let the rage abate, time to let our subconscious process the hurt, the facts (as we accept them), what we have heard and what we have said. Then, we need to discuss all aspects of the situation to see where our fears lie. All sorts of possibilities might emerge.

I am not suggesting that we should ignore the call of our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every person, nor should we ignore the tragic injustices being done. I’m not suggesting that we should move backward, but I’m also not suggesting that we move forward until everyone has had quiet time. Then every person, Primate, congregation, diocese, province and nation can make decisions that are best for that particular entity.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Deep Poverty

Deep poverty means that a family of two adults and two children live on an income of $9,903 per year or a single person lives on $5,080 per year (which translates to about half the poverty level). According to a survey done by McClatchy Newspapers and published HERE, the number of people living in deep poverty in North Carolina has increased to approximately seventeen percent of the population (523,000 in deep poverty, 8,683,000 total population 2005). Government statistics show that all persons living under the poverty level was 13.4 percent in 2003. You’re right; the survey shows that more people were living in deep poverty in 2005 than government statistics show were living in poverty in 2003. Can two years make such a difference?

Never mind the differences in the figures, too many people are living on too little. North Carolina is tenth in the list of most people living in deep poverty. Not Mississippi, Not Louisiana. Never mind Katrina and its effects. And the top of the list is California. Not surprising that our largest states have very large numbers of poverty stricken families. Washington, DC, was mentioned for its high level of people living in severe poverty.

What’s wrong with us, folks? I’m buying pretty towels made in Turkey and my neighbors need toilet paper. What’s wrong with me? One year we gave away half of what we made (and that was just the tax deductible part), and our bit of giving didn’t make any difference in the number of people living in poverty, going hungry, living in tiny rooms with too many people.

The economy is doing well. Our income witnesses to that. But, perhaps the economy has forgotten about the people and concentrated only on the dollar. People who did manual labor for many years and were paid a pittance, sometimes under the table and without social security being deducted – these people are now suffering from severe poverty. They can no longer do the work they did before; they have no training to do anything else. Many are old and ill with no insurance and depending on the food pantry at the local church to help them eat. Maybe they can get a small amount of Section 8 housing money or food stamps, but that often requires paperwork that they can’t decipher.

The economy has changed. Yet, only slightly more than half of the young people who finish grade 9 in North Carolina actually graduate from high school. So, they flip burgers or stand on the street corners in outlandish costumes advertising some business. And, they live in rented rooms or bunk down at the local shelter. Who will rescue these young people from living all their lives in severe poverty? Never mind the baby boomers that magazines picture as all being middle class. Well, we know from the statistics that too many of them are living on half of the poverty level. How will they retire? Who will care for them in their illness? Where will they live?

I am concerned not only that too many people are living in such poverty but also that few programs are successful in preparing dropouts and other young adults to live in this growing technical age. They are ignorant of what is needed to live. They have few, if any, skills for this economy. How can we help them? I don’t have answers.

Gift, Inductement or Bribe

What’s the difference in a bribe and a gift? Apparently, Microsoft is offering free laptops to certain bloggers for their use and in hopes of favorable reviews. See Chalain’s Journal HERE and Joel Splosky’s blog HERE.

Encarta Dictionary defines bribe as “money or some other incentive that is given to persuade somebody to do something, especially something illegal or dishonest.” Gift is defined as “something that is given to somebody, usually to give pleasure or to show gratitude.” Neither word seems to fit this situation.

Microsoft is offering a premium product free to an influential person in hopes that person will write a favorable review of the product on a much-read and credible blog. The laptop is not a bribe because the offer specifically did not carry conditions. Joel contends that, even though the offer did not contain conditions, the acceptance of the laptop would harm not only his own credibility but that of other bloggers. This attempt to be completely objective can be accomplished only, as he points out, by Consumer Reports, a non-profit testing group that depends on consumer donations and subscriptions and purchases all the products that it reviews at retail.

I would call the offer an inducement to provide free publicity. Magazines, newspapers and television have been doing it for years – perhaps they’ve slowed down some now, but, during the 15 years I worked in journalism, I received many inducements to provide a short blurb about a new product. Some were included with good reviews; some were included with bad reviews; and some were trashed. The reviews always included the disclosure that the product was received free. Readers and listeners take those things with a grain of salt. And, I imagine the same is true for reviewers in the blogsphere. While some reviewers may have more credibility than others, no one is exempt from the skepticism of “Buyer Beware”.

Thinking that one particular reviewer is the only source of information and that readers will not check others and read specs is pure egotism. Such thinking is not about credibility or ethics. It is pride.

One field which offers inducements on a regular and expected basis is the arts. DJs get music, readers get books, and critics get tickets to plays and movies. A few reviewers have such credibility with their readers that they can influence the purchase of that product, but, they have built up that credibility over a long time. If a reviewer raves about a show, and the consumer sees the show and agrees, the reviewer’s credibility is raised. On the other hand, too many bad calls and the reviewer is out of a job. But, the free tickets and other inducements to see, read, or hear the products are expected in this field. They are not bribes, nor gifts, nor inducements, but part of the job.

In government, such “gifts or inducements” are mostly prohibited now. It’s called buying votes, like when a candidate for office sent my bootlegger grandfather a note to give the fellow a pint of whiskey because he voted the right way.

Product review on the other hand often depends on the reviewer’s budget, and most of them have no budget. I laud Joel for his efforts to become more objective by buying the products that he reviews. But, most bloggers can’t afford to do that. And, some of them provide good reviews (and bad reviews) of products that are catching the public eye. Their credibility is based more on how often their opinion fits with readers’ opinions than on where they received the product. Their credibility can also be based on how well they write and what facts they provide to back up their opinions but, still, not on the source of the product.

All reviewers in all media can be biased, no matter how they receive the product. Readers, and presumably buyers, should carefully consider the track record of the reviewer as well as read other reviews and check out specs and data and previews and short clips before they buy any product.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Not bad for a semi-recluse

ENFJ - "Persuader". Outstanding leader of groups. Can be aggressive at helping others to be the best that they can be. 2.5% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

Lenten Blog Carnival

The previous entry on "Waiting" was written for the Lenten blog carnival begun by ePiscoSours here, continued on Word of Mike here, and will be on Episcopali-fem here next Wednesday. You still have time to submit your blurb and link to your offering to her at beezerama32 at yahoo dot com. Join in this Lenten discipline with us!

Waiting to go home

Waiting to go home
Till he’s passed out
So I can go to bed and sleep.

If he’s still sitting at the table
When I come home,
He asks a hundred questions
About where I’ve been
(He saw me at a juke joint in Friars Point),
And who’s been with me,
And, what have we been doing
(He knows what kind of whore I am).

In a ’49 Ford, I just keep
Driving miles in the dark
On gravel roads
With woods on either side
Waiting to go home
Till he’s passed out.

Occasionally meeting another waiting soul
Who can’t go home
Till someone’s passed out.
We travel together with laughter
To hide the fear.

We know all the back roads
‘Cause I’m too young to drive
At least by the law;
So it’s crunchy gravel roads
Searching for friends
Who are searching for you.

Every night it’s the same.
Driving, waiting, checking the clock,
Waiting to go home
Till he’s passed out.

Originally begun November 14, 1967, revised March 2, 2007

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Same story, different endings

Mema and Granddad at Sardis Dam

Hot and humid nights, when the air conditioner runs and fans stir the air and still your legs stick together and the skin on your neck feels as if you’d smeared it with goo. We’ve had a couple of those lately here in North Carolina. On those nights I wonder how I ever survived summers in the Mississippi Delta. I can remember the big window fan in one window of the bedroom I shared with my brother, and how the other window was only open about four inches; so that we’d get a strong draft through it. The draft, however, did not reach over to my bed against the wall; so I’d crouch in the tiny space between his bed and the wall and put my face in the middle of the open window. I’d write stories in my mind while I listened to the frogs and crickets and the occasional bird. Sometimes the same stories had different endings.

Last night I finished another book, “The Laughing Place” by Pam Durham, and I was appalled at the ending. I think ending are so hard to write. At least readers are hard to please with endings because we want books to end our way. We want answers to our life questions, not their life questions or the characters’ life questions

I remember Sergeant Friday on television in The Dragnet saying, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” In most books, “only the endings have been changed to suit the authors.” We readers are left to extract what meaning we can from the endings the authors have chosen. If our ethic of life is congruent with their ethic of life, we read them again and again, reinforcing the belief that our way is THE WAY. If we differ, we seldom read that author’s work again.

And, we read the Bible in the same manner. The stories are interpreted as we see them through our various biases and points of view. That’s the only way it can be. We cannot operate without our assumptions of right and wrong. Occasionally we can change them, but we cannot get rid of them. A preacher or teacher has responsibility for presenting other viewpoints, perhaps ones that don’t fit her/his own ethic of life. We need various ways to see God in scripture; we need a community of eyes and ears and hearts so that we can get a broader view of what the Divine One might be like.

Now, Pam Durham’s view of possibility through her character, Annie Vess, is one of acceptance and limits. I was upset, even angry, that “Annie” did not come to see a wider view. No character in the book had a wider view; she had no role models. Society, the world, was a static place. And, I found it overwhelmingly sad. The ethos was gratitude without hope, enough not abundance, acceptance not strength.

Needless to say, that is not my ethos. Appreciation and acceptance of the present and past are essential for our lives, but hope and love must supercede those in my ethos. Enough is good, but God has promised us abundance, and I want all of us to have it, even the characters in books that I read. I want excitement and enjoyment in addition to contentment.

God never talks about life being dull. That’s one thing about the stories of the Bible; they aren’t dull. They’re filled with folk who do outrageous things – both outrageously bad and outrageously good. And, some stories talk about justice, which is never a dull subject. Solomon judged to whom the baby belonged. “OK,” he said. “We’ll just cut the baby in half and let each of you have half.” A ploy to discover which of the two women was truly the baby’s mother. Not dull, but also not part of my ethos. Can you imagine any woman saying, “Well, half a baby is better than none.”? But, not dull.

So, I look at the endings of books, and sometimes, I can rewrite the ending to fit my own ethos. Sometimes I just must realize that the character in the book, with whom I identified in many ways, is not me, does not have my outlook, my experiences or my beliefs. And, I look at both the differences and similarities to figure out how I might have done or might do things differently in my life.

I look at the Biblical stories in much the same way. Right now, I’m reading the Gospel of Mark. I am not Jesus, even though sometimes I act as if I am God. But, I try to see his ethos and his point of view and how it is similar to and different from mine. Then, I try to see how I might live differently, better, closer to God.

Today it is an ethos of abundance with a liberal mixture of gratitude and acceptance.