Friday, September 19, 2008

Cigarettes, Soda Water and Jesus

I grew up in the 1970s basically. Those early formative years before reaching puberty and being distracted by girls wearing jordache jeans and coming into their womanness. It was a time of playful innocence, where awareness of things of the adult world had not yet raised its ugly head, and we were allowed to explore the limitless adventures our young minds could conjure up. Cowboys and Indians and Army and Bonnie and Clyde (I will not mention who was forced to play bonnie some times due to the lack of any girls in our group!). Little did I know of the world of sex, drugs and anti-war sentiment. For me, it was Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo and Saturday Morning cartoons. It was 3 channels on a TV with a manual dial. Life was good.

And in the summers, I would be transported into another country for a week or so at a time to visit my grandparents on my mothers side. They lived in Southeastern Oklahoma and this, though only a few hours away from my little town, seemed like an entirely different universe. And they were poor, but I didn't know it. As a kid, I never really noticed that some people lived in big houses and some didn't. Some lived in brick homes while some lived in trailer houses. And I was family and friends with them all. My grandparents lived in a four room house. Literally. If you take a perfectly square box and divided it equally into four parts, that's the house. And you can see each room from the other room by leaning this way or that.

My grandfather was German and my grandmother Native American. We don't know which tribe due to records being burned up in a fire of some sort. But if you look at her photograph, she looks just like Geronimo, but with boobs.

And grandfather was an alcoholic. Not a mean one but one nevertheless. He amused us as kids, with his wisp of white hair piled up on his head, he was a sight to behold. He was a logger in his early days and a tree fell on him. He walked with a cane the whole time I knew him and drew a disability check from the government. And they always had the best butter, cheese, peanut butter and honey. I didn't know that it was food subsidies. It tasted great and they always let us have all we wanted.

And he drank and cursed the whole time I knew him. And I didn't care. He and I would wait inside the house as my parents left, watching through the screen door their Chevrolet Caprice station wagon with the wood grain sides traveling down the limestone road, creating a dust trail that wouldn't settle for hours, and he would tell me to get me and him a beer. He drank Miller High Life in the bottle and man they were cold. He would then roll a Prince Albert cigarette, and then feign he couldn't get it to light. So he would have me light it for him then go ahead and smoke it with my beer. Man, that stuff was so tasty to a 10 year old, and it was our little secret, our little rebellion against the good wishes of my parents. And I loved it.

One day he ran out of beer, wine and whiskey, so he asked me and my cousin of the same age if we wanted to "go to town". Going to town in those days was a big deal because Grandad rarely left the forty acres he lived on. We loaded up in his old ford pickup and headed down the dirt roads to town, where he would buy us a "sody water" and a snack. City boy me would always ask for a Coke and a Snicker Bar, while my Oklahoma cousins would opt for a Orange Pop and a Moon Pie. And of course we would have to eat and drink it at the gas station so we could leave the bottle and not have to pay the deposit!

and somehow, we ended up at the liquor store. Now me and my cousin didn't know it was a liquor store, as grandad told us he was going in to see his girlfriend and get us some Arkansas Soda Pop, which sounded pretty good to me. He returned with two huge bottles of what can only be described as the best tasting grape juice that had to that point touched my lips. Now grandad made us drive back home while he sat on the passenger side and drank. Okay, he didn't really make us, we eagerly agreed to his arrangement. Anything to get to set up on the Sears Catalog and shift that 3 speed on the column. While one of us drove, the other drank. Then we switched places. I can't tell you how many peanut crops were ruined that day, but I'm sure somewhere there was one unhappy farmer.

Luckily, we made it back. Glory hallelujah. I went into the bedroom and fell out under the swamp fan on the bed and passed smooth out. As luck would have it, mom and dad returned a few hours later and found us all passed out. Jesus, the stuff hit the fan and off we go, me in the rear of the station wagon, bouncing around the back roads of Oklahoma, sticking my head out to rid myself of the contents of my stomach.

I'm not sure mom ever forgave him for that. I still can't believe we survived that and many other episodes. Every visit after that, I noticed that mom would make us go to the little baptist church that was close to granddad's place on Sunday morning, even though we didn't know anyone there. I would listen to the old time preacher screaming about sin, and I would think he had me and grandad pegged. And the best part is that the pulpit had a box in it, like a diorama box, with a three dimensional Jesus in it that would stare holes through me, no matter where I was setting. It was kind of creepy. Did Jesus know about the cigarettes? the beer? the Arkansas soda water? I'm sure he did.

I miss those moments. They come and go in an instant. Those experiences that are "once in a lifetime". Those people who loved you in their own way are also gone. And I miss them deeply. But I have those memories, memories of cigarettes, soda water and Jesus.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

whatever you do for the least of these...

My last post was about going to a "Leadership" retreat for two days and, of course, I was a little apprehensive about it. I'm really not exactly sure why, but there are certain categories of folks I just don't feel comfortable around.

One of those categories is Superficial. I don't really care for superficialness or casual conversation about the weather or politics or designer clothes or cost of gas. I can talk about it with folks, but its boring. Those topics to me are just facts of life that you deal with and not get you down. There are enough worries for the day, so why focus on the trivial.

And I was wondering what God had planned for me on this path, this retreat, this spending exclusive time with what I feared would be superficial. You know, how to be a good leader according to worldly standards, making business contacts, which fork to use, blah blah blah. None of this I care about. So I was wondering what on earth I was doing signing up for this and participating outside of my comfort zone.

God has a sense of humbling someone just at the right time, doesn't he.

It was a reminder to the nonprofitprophet to not prejudge people. It was a reminder that all people, no matter their walk, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, position, whatever, have their own story. Their own crap they carry with them. Their share of burdens and concerns and life experiences that they bring with them to their daily walks. That no matter what we look like, or the appearance we wish to display to the world, there is an inner person, a soul, that is aching and seeking something larger. God. A community. A fellowship. An understanding. Someone to say, "hey, you are not alone in this mess!".

and I was glad I went. It was similar to my Emmaus Walk experience in a sense. It was an exercise in trust building. This group of 35 folks opened up in ways I never imagined would happen. People with addictions, breast cancer, alcoholic families, homelessness, poverty, welfare moms, race issues, expressing themselves and where they have been and where they are today.

And a common thread emerged throughout the weekend. Its not all about me! I was shocked. Many spoke of when they realized life is not about them. It was like listening to people talk about when they got saved. Some had a date and time moment. Some have a lifelong experience with this. Some stories had the tissues passing around. And we all have a desire to give back to the community, the world, in some fashion. So this experience, program, dare say fellowship, is helping each person explore ways that they can do this.

and I was wrong. Its not superficial. It was real. Very real. And I was glad I was wrong. And I am glad I am a part of this. It is the hands and feet of Jesus at work (okay, there is one Muslim in the group that bunked with me so I guess I need to include God/Allah in there as well) because, despite the perceived differences that I had assumed seperate us, I learned, no, was reminded that there are more things that bring us together. And to know that others have recognized a broken and hurting world gave me hope. And perhaps, a renewed sense of goodness in people.

So I am humbled and reminded by an awesome God that we are all children, stumbling our way through this world. And sometimes, when least expected, one of them well reach down and help you up when you stumble.

Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do it to me. Matthew 25:40

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today I leave for a 2 day retreat. Its not a spiritual retreat. Its a Leadership retreat. In certain cities, large or small, there are organizations which call themselves "Leadership (fill in the blank your city name)", and is affiliated with civic, government, nonprofit, and the business community, to promote leadership and future leaders in the areas listed above. Its about giving back to the community, being a civic leader, and, uh, I imagine networking overall.
And somehow I got accepted. You actually have to fill out a 3 page essay and go before an interview board comprised of former Leadership CITY class members. Each class has its own number, like Leadership CITY Class of 12 or whatever. And their is an alumni association and on and on. Regardless, I passed and was accepted.
and why am I posting this? I'm not sure.
I think its because this is so out of my comfort zone. I don't really know what God is up too with this because its something I would normally make fun of, poke fun at, sort of like I do with Junior League stuff sometimes. Not that they don't do good stuff, its just how they do it I make fun of. But hey, at least they are doing something. So what is God up too? Is this another door I am going through that will lead to something else? Has it got anything to do with me or maybe I'm supposed to affect someone else on their walk. You never know.
So off I go with 34 other people to a ranch where they have hired a chef to cook and we get to work on this and that. Should be interesting - for them or me at least. I can be quite entertaining when I feel like it.
So I shall see you fellow bloggers and readers later.

Friday, September 5, 2008

for those who have ears...

I have always found that bit of scripture a little weird. I know what Jesus was saying, it just sounds weird to me. I get a mental image of someone with and without ears and its just unsettling.

And I wonder, do we actually see or hear what we think we see or hear?

I have read a few blogs today, a few news articles, and listened to a few reports via radio about both conventions. And I wonder, "what were those people listening too" when they talk about what they saw and heard? Because what they saw and heard is different than what I saw and heard. I have friends on both ends of the political spectrum and I can ask them what they thought about X's speech, and they give me two completely different responses. Now I know the speech they heard wasn't altered in any form or fashion - so they both heard the same words and got two totally different things from it.

For the first time in my life, I actually watched both conventions. Not out of nothing else to do, but because I was not thrilled with either party nor their candidates, and I really wanted to hear what they were proposing. The Democrats had control of congress for 40 years and the white house off and on during that time, and did absolutely nothing that they say they want to do now, which begs the question "why didn't you do any of it when you had the chance?". So the Republicans promise that they will change politics as we know it if they can just get control of the white house and congress, and it happened. And then they acted just like the democrats before them. And the American people were once more left out to suffer.

So I am approaching this as a clean slate. They both sucked in the past in their own egotistical, selfish, and power hungry ways. And I heard John McCain say that during his speech. He blamed both parties for their failures. I did not hear that from the other side. I do hear both saying they are the agent of change. Am I seeing and hearing what I think I am?

My theory is people are going to see and hear what they are predisposed to think about one side or the other. So those listening to hear how the democrats/republicans are going to save the world because they are so much better will hear that. Those listening to hear how the democrats/republicans are going to ruin the world will hear that. Because the same words are being heard by different audiences and what each person hears (based upon their own notions of how things should be) is what they believe the other party is saying.

And for the first time in a long time, I think the swing voting, truly independant people will decide this election. Because maybe, just maybe, they are the only ones who can truly listen. For those who have ears...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

so bad we called in the national guard

In my area of this tiny planet a big ol' nasty hurricane named Gustav came blowin' and howlin' up through the gulf of mexico threatening to knock down anything and everything in its path. As a species, we learned a lot from Katrina and Rita and were much better prepared this time. Evacuations were quick and effective, relief areas were set up and transportation was no issue.
and the National Guard were deployed effectively and early.
and they set up shop in my church. Yep.
so i get the call saturday night that we were expecting 80-85 national guardsmen who were setting up opps from my church and were going to be using various rooms to muster in, sleep in and whatever else they do.
So sunday morning they are everywhere. and it was cool watching them give selflishly as their country called on them, even though i knew many of them probably had families of their own to take care of, but were instead protecting and assisting all of our families.
so we made coffee for them and tried best we could to make them as "at home" as possible.
another class had no room so they joined with us, giving a total of 42 folks in our room. it was kind of fun to have that many folks discussing the topic. And I wasn't teaching, which was even better, and the guy who volunteered was shocked when he walked in the room! I told him everyone heard I wasn't teaching so they showed up.
and the senior pastor had his last day before moving on to ruin another church. some of the class folks went to see him off, the others said they went to make sure he left. either way, its all good.
but before he left, he had to send out a bye bye letter. he thanks this person or that person and this group or that group for whatever reason, then he added "and the little groups in the church with axes to grind who find themselves the center of the universe". I got 2 calls that evening from folks laughing and saying "Hey, isn't that you and your little group!". Oh the joy of notariety.
So on his last day, the National Guard is here, my center of the universe class has 42 folks in it, and he is getting sent to the eye of the hurricane area where devastation is expected... Metaphor?