Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What Can Brown Do For You? - Part II

Michael Brown - "Brownie." He's some kinda guy.

Apparently, he's the ONE allowed to play "the blame game."

I'm just spitballing here.

You stand before Congress, swear to tell the truth, blame everyone (and there's plenty of blame to go around), but not accept any responsibility (even W did that).

And, you proclaim that Mississippi and Alabama's responses went well, while Louisiana is disfunctional (any chance that's because MS and AL are Republican strongholds, and Louisiana is, well, Louisiana).

I don't know what world you live in, but I'm sure your doing a heck of a job.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Two Posts to Go See

Rather than cut and paste their work into my space, be sure to visit two blogs whose commentary on current issues are worthy of your time.

The first is from my friend of 30 years, Ed Kilbourne, whose blog, A Place to Watch the Rain offers a theological conundrum on the power play in the church with his post
A New Low Pressure System. The larger questions raised are compelling.

The second is from Bishop Will Willimon (still can't quite get that in my head - maybe because I'm a Vandy guy, and he's from Duke, the "Vanderbilt" of Tobacco Road), whose blog, A Peculiar Prophet (man, we like ourselves, don't we? - of course I'm not planning on being appointed to the North Alabama Conference, can you tell?) whose post titled
Thinking Like a Christian is a challenging examination of what is going on with the theological tug of war in the church. Be sure to read the comments posted in response to his article. There's much about Willimon's writing that drives me nuts (for me, it's what too much of his written work comes off as - self-aggrandizement wrapped in feigned humility, which often gets in the way of good theological insight) but this article is a nice piece of work.

Come Share the Lord

The following comes from our church newsletter as we seek to live more faithfully the Sacramental Life

After many years of theological ambiguity, The United Methodist Church has offered significant, defining statements about the essential tie between the Divine and the Church expressed through the Holy Sacraments.

The reasons for s
uch ambiguity are complex, and part of parcel of what happens to a religious movement whose numeric growth is more valuable than the theological compass headings driving it. There's plenty written on the whys of rebaptism or the profound lack of zeal for the Eucharist. The long and the short of it is, however, that we didn't count understanding the nature of our relationship with God through Jesus as continual and necessary to our own spiritual health, and, that God, who provides all things, has also provided manifest expressions of Self-giving to nurture and sustain that relationship.

The ship began to turn several years ago with the denomination's study on baptism, called By Water and the Spirit - A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism. As a landmark document, the church stated that baptism is that claiming of the individual as God's son or daughter. It is God who initiates this claim. It is dependent on how you feel about it, or, that you are cognitively aware of it. So, if you are 9 days old or 90 years old, the issue is what God has done and is doing in naming you one of God's own. And, it is a one time thing. You don't redo what God has already done. However, we are now understanding that while God claims us once, we need to remember that promise, and our own promises to God, perpetually. So, the service celebrating the renewal of the baptismal covenant has become an essential part of United Methodist liturgy.

At the General Conference in 2004, the denomination approached Holy Communion, the Eucharist - and adopted a position called This Holy Mystery - A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion, taken from the Eucharistic prayer we share every time we commune. As a comprehensive statement for this time in the Church's life, this document gives long overdue instruction and interpretation for how we have understood The Lord's Supper, and why we have been so inconsistent in it's observance. The call for the Church, even the mandate of the Church, is to call all United Methodists into a more constant observance of the sacrament, for in our celebration of it, we are drawn closer to Christ, to each other, and to the call of God through Christ upon the Church to heal a broken world.

For now, what I would want you to know is simply this - this document is not some new rebellious attempt to sway us from the way we've always done things and turn us into Catholic wannabees (as if that's a bad thing). In fact, this new position of the Church is really trying to get us back to the way we always did it. Mr. Wesley believed strongly in the command of God to commune "constantly." The first Methodists in America were under orders to observe The Lord's Supper on every Lord's day.

As it was with baptism getting steered by the prevailing winds of other agendas, so, too, did the observance of the Church with Holy Communion. It is a complex story, but one that it is time to redeem.

And so, with this, and under the instruction of the general Church, we will launch into a more frequent observance of Holy Sacrament. This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, and there's hardly a better time to think of what is at the core of this holy meal than this. There following, we will observe Eucharist on the first and third Sundays of the month, as well as the high days of the church as they occur in the Christian calendar.

Over the next year, I will be teaching, in many different contexts, the United Methodist understanding of both Baptism and Eucharist. I hope you will engage in study with me and with one another to discover that it is through these acts of God's self giving that our mission as disciples of Jesus becomes clearer, thus, equipping us to fulfill that to which we've been called.

The newfound claim of a Sacramental ethos, is, I believe, at the core of our renewal as disciples and as a Church to claim the world as our parish.

For further study, I recommend the following resources linked below:

This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
The Duty of Constant Communion," Sermon 101, John Wesley
By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism

Monday, September 26, 2005

Eddie Webb Has My Rush 2112 Album

It was sometime in the fall of 1978.

God's country...south Jackson, Tennessee.

He said he wanted to borrow it. Had this new thing called a cassette recorder - having moved away from 8-track (which was scandalous for many of us to even consider), and that he wanted to "record" it.

"Get it right back to me," he said.

My favorite album.

Rush 2112.

How many nights did I crash to side one of that album? With headphones on (and this was back when headphones were huge) I would slip into dreamland listening to "Temples of Syrinx" and "Oracles: The Dream."

A masterpiece of rock opera too often ignored by devotees of "Tommy" (which ain't bad, by the way).

But man, Neil Peart on the drums...are you kidding me?

With some reluctance, I did it. I "loaned" my Rush album to Eddie Webb. He was a senior, I was a freshman. I figured, "hey, couldn't hurt my never ending attempt to appear cool to the upperclassmen," and that longing was something he could smell like blood in the water.

Eddie was an alright guy.


Long hair.

Dripped "cool," and he knew it.

The chicks dug him.

So if I could get close to that, by association, therefore... you get logic was worthy of Mr. Spock.

Except for this one thing...

You know what you call things that belong to you when placed in the hands of someone who has power over you?


He never returned it. Later in the spring of '79 as my family was preparing to move to Memphis, I, sheepishly, asked him for my album.

He did the old, " I gave it back to you didn't I?"


"Well, I'm sure I did."

So much for Rush 2112.

We live with a complexity of relationships too often guided by underlying agendas. I had something I was hoping to gain from doing somebody a "favor." He just saw it as a way to get what he wanted. And from the position of power he held over me, he got it, and I was left without what was mine in the first place.

Too much of life is lived wanting to please, hoping to impress, trying to appear as anything other than people not at ease with ourselves - and willing to do anything to mask who we are.

Part of living a life of faith, it seems to me, is to accept who we are in the face of what we're called to be. And getting from point A to B, is the journey. For those of us who claim faith in Jesus of Nazareth, there is this journey to be taken as empowerment. What's that scripture say? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

One of empowerment's definitions is - "to promote the self-actualization or influence of. "

Those who are empowered are self-actualized to respond to power's abuses whenever and wherever they occur. A person of faith, under the influence of Holy Boldness gains the perspective of justice through the eyes of the One who empowers them.

And that justice, biblically speaking, is about a redistribution of power. The reason the Western Church too often dismisses out of hand the Liberation Theology of the 3rd world is because it puts them on notice..."if your wanderlust for power and consumerism continues at the expense of others, you're about to fall."

Really, who around here wants to hear that? Didn't God bless me with what I have? Can't I just love Jesus and do with what's mine whatever I please?

But hold on. If you want to go there, consider this - John Wesley was clear on this point. You have what you have not to hoard, but to share with those who don't have. He would go on to say that if you're not sharing fully all you have (because it's not yours in the first place, it all belongs to God), then you are robbing those without with what is rightfully theirs - and that is, what God has placed in your hands to give them.

Would that we could embrace an empowered life. Would that we were no longer slave to the crippling fear as we witness the misappropriations of power by those who take advantage of the powerless. Would that our silence in the face of such injustice be shattered by the voices of advocacy for those whose cries are dismissed.

Would that empowered disciples of Jesus stand in the Temples of this world and say, "Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand."

A wishdream? Probably. But this one thing I know. If I ever run into Eddie Webb again, I'm going tell him to give me my damn album back.

And of course he won't have it.

So I'll settle for the newly remastered CD.

Gotta keep up, don't you know!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

They Say, "The Fruit Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree"

''What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. 'Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.'' - Barbara Bush - Former First Lady & Mother of President George W. Bush, upon visiting the evacuees in the Astrodome

I had to actually see the footage of Mrs. Bush myself to believe it. But boy, W's mom makes my point from the September 3 post to a tee. Affluence and privilege without empathy or sense of stewardship obligation blinds the realities of poverty. Period.

The sad thing is, she doesn't think she's said anything wrong.

Money is not itself a bad thing. It's what motivates your heart do something with it.

"Money in the hands of God's children is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked. It gives a place to rest for the traveler.... It provides care for the sick." John Wesley

If John Wesley is spiritual forebear to the "people called Methodists," how far from that tree shall we fall? Hmmm..I wonder.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Inconsequential Responsibility?

Riddle me this, Batman....

If something bad happens and I'm responsible for it - are there any consequences that I must live with as a result of my action or inaction? Is there accountability? Or, is just saying "I'm responsible" enough?

I'm just asking. I've got more on this later, but for now, let's allow the sauce to simmer and you feel free to chime in.

This is not a political question (although I cannot ignore the current context). It's a theological one. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sins of the Father

My father and I have an interesting relationship.

Parent, child - colleagues. It can get kinda mixed up sometimes.

Not long after my first son was born, almost 13 years ago, I remember seeing something shift in dad. It seemed he needed to tell me that he was aware of how much of my life he missed while he was doing "church work."

Dad is good at what he does. He always has been, and to see him in a moment of introspection and confession was among our most "real" moments. And with that came the admonition that as I proceeded in ministry that I not forget the relationships that ground me - family. I made a pledge then that I would not let my pursuit of vocation get in the way of my covenantal vows to family.

13 years later - I must confess that it's a pledge I've broken too damn often.

Too many nights away only to see my kids asleep.

Too many calls of "Daddy, when are you coming home?" and too many times answered, "as soon as I can," knowing all the while that I was nowhere near home.

Too many times sacrificing the relational work with my partner while thinking there's still so much more I need to do at work - too much left undone.

Too many times seeking to be all things to all people only to realize too late that I've been very little to anyone.

This is the tension under which most of my life is lived - seeking to be relevant in ministry and relevant as a husband/father. Most of the time, it seems to make sense - where one sphere of life melds into the other seamlessly.

But there are times, like the last couple of days, I'm pretty sure I've sucked at both.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Alex, I'll take "Do Everything You Can to Avoid Accountability" for $1,000

When people do not want to play the blame game, they're to blame. John Stewart, The Daily Show

To reduce the pursuit of accountabilityto talking point rhetoric is more about CYA than it is correcting systemic breakdowns. Doesn't matter which party occupies the big house, this issue is at the core of what government is.

I don't know if Rove or Mehlman decided everyone in the administration would adopt "blame game" as the pat response, but it's clear everyone's on the same page, which exposes how political the response is.

On it's face, however, there could be nothing more offensive than to call the pursuit of accountability the blame game.

This is no game.

Oh, wait, there is something more offensive...watching thousands of the most vulnerable of American citizens dying of starvation and dehydration, particularly the elderly, the impoverished, and the children, while the administration holds press conferences turned mutual admiration society meetings.

Yep, that's more offensive.

I'm not playing the game.

I'm saying it.

Government failed.

All levels of government failed. And if the other party was in office, I'd say it just as strong. Government forgot it's prime directive.

Why can't that just be said?

For God's sake. Please

Drop the rhetoric and speak truth. There is no loss of honor to admit mistakes and failures. In the church, we call that the prayer of confession. To not own failure is to dishonor those who died because of it - and it makes the ones who scapegoat (there's an ancient biblical concept if ever there was one) others look more than petty.

They're pathetic.

Maybe in this instance, we need some age old wisdom from another American President.

Give 'em hell, Harry.

The buck stops here. President Harry S. Truman

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What Can Brown Do For You?

If it's UPS, I guess they'll do what you need in a timely fashion.

If it's Michael Brown from FEMA, it's going to be awhile before he knows you even need anything at all.

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
President George W. Bush, September 2, 2005

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Keith Olbermann's Blog - "The City of Louisiana"

I am admittedly a fan of Keith Olbermann. Going back to the Sportscenter days on ESPN, there's been something about his personality and sensibility that connected with me. Below is the transcript of an editorial given on his broadcast Monday night, September 5. The text comprises his current blog post.

I offer this not to ask you to agree or disagree, but to consider the larger questions of who we are, what we've become, and what can we do in our future to respond to crisis without hesitation or reservation - or above all things - spin.

SECAUCUS — Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater..."

Well there's your problem right there.

If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.

The seeming definition of our time and our leaders had been their insistence on slashing federal budgets for projects that might’ve saved New Orleans. The seeming characterization of our government that it was on vacation when the city was lost, and could barely tear itself away from commemorating V.J. Day and watching Monty Python's Flying Circus, to at least pretend to get back to work. The seeming identification of these hapless bureaucrats: their pathetic use of the future tense in terms of relief they could’ve brought last Monday and Tuesday — like the President, whose statements have looked like they’re being transmitted to us by some kind of four-day tape-delay.

But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called “The Department of Homeland Security”: “Louisiana is a city…”

Politician after politician — Republican and Democrat alike — has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the "I-Me" switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were — congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a supermarket.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded — even the internet's meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural... and government-made.

But now, at least, it is has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana (the state, not the city). And, having given our leaders what we know now is the week or so they need to get their act together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned, should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city, ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?

I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been — as we were taught in Social Studies it should always be — whether or not I voted for this President — he is still my President. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government — our government — "New Orleans."

For him, it is a shame — in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there, and he might not have looked so much like a 21st Century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick "I'm not satisfied with my government's response." Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself — it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found, or the last artifact of the levee break, dug up. Could be next March. Could be 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government's credibility.

Somewhere, in the City of Louisiana.

Patience is a Virtue for a Reason

Here are a few things that must be taken as given...
  1. We are not on the front line of Katrina's issues. We don't live on the Gulf Coast, we don't live in New Orleans or surrounding parishes. We haven't had to be bussed to Texas. We feel this, sure, but not in the same way as those who've lived though it, or had a loved one die because of it.
  2. We count ourselves among the thousands and thousands of folks, who, as witnesses to cataclysm, cannot sit idly by and do nothing.
  3. Having said that, we don't know really what to do.

Benevolence is an interesting thing. And we are seeing it expressed in ways that boggles the mind. As of today, the American Red Cross alone has received over $400 million in gifts to support their work. It takes giving on a stunning level to stand as response to a disaster that has stunned us cold.

But if we're not careful, we'll want to give of ourselves on our terms and in our time. In Memphis, there's a growing impatience with those who have readied shelters, resources for jobs and education, but not the influx of people expected. Just where the heck are the people? Can't they see how badly we want to help?

Watch out! Be careful! We are not called to give of self on our own terms. We are not called to give of self only to those who suit us or fit the mold we want or expect. No, we are called to give of self in the moments that come to us as they come, when they come. If any agenda other than that is at play, we're faced with the harsh reality that it's really not about those in need that motivates our response, it's about how we feel when we give to those in need. Strange how that can work, ain't it?

And for this disaster, as tired as it is to say now only after one week, it's going to be years for recovery. There may well be the need within the parameters of our city and congregation to relate to specific people in specific ways. There will come a time for us to go there and begin to aid in building recovery.

Patience...and a willingness to respond three months from now that we feel in this first week. That's what is needed. Patience is a spiritual gift and discipline to be practiced. Until the time comes for us to be called up, practicing patience is our homework.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

How Do We Respond to Disaster?

. . . a few random thoughts on what I'm seeing happen on the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, and what I'm seeing about to happen in Memphis....

  • I heard my clergy brother, the Rev'd Dr. Frank Thomas, pastor of Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church admonish the clergy gathered for a meeting yesterday that the words "refugee" and "evacuee" have got to go. And I heartily agree. So, you will no longer hear those words from me. We will speak of our "friends" and "neighbors" with whom we are sharing our lives.
  • Know when to criticize.
  • Kanye West, whose diatribe on the NBC telethon last night took everyone aback, missed the point. George Bush does not hate black people, as he asserted. I don't believe there was premeditated intent on anyone's part to keep support from anyone in need.
  • This isn't about race, at least overtly - it is part and parcel of what the sin of poverty does to the masses, regardless of race. Although, without question, most of the faces we see left behind are African American. So trapped are they by the principalities and powers under which they live, so trapped are they by the attitudes such poverty instills in the individuals as mechanisms simply to survive, that they cannot flee it, even if it's what they desired most, anymore than they could flee New Orleans before the flood, without someone to offer help.
  • The other side of poverty is what affluence does to those enslaved by the many and much of life. Without conscience and empathy, those of us who live in affluence are blinded by the plight of those who are trapped in poverty, or, we'll give it the old, "there but for the grace of God, go I," line, which is a load of crap.
  • Oh, and then there's this - for anyone who would dare call themselves a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, with whom did he relate? To whom did he demand association of those who would follow? This distinction is the defining character of Christianity. Where criticism is appropriate, is for those who are charged with protection of the citizenry by their election to office whose negligence is not to recognize poverty's reality and then act surprised these people didn't evacuate and blame them for not doing it. I don't know Kanye West, I hear he's a hip-hop star - I'm too old to know that...but I'm betting he's not from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. He's entitled to his opinion, I guess, but he was not licensed to divert the energies of so many who had rallied around this cause by breaking script. Just after he finished basically calling the President a murderer, and was yanked off the screen, Aaron Neville, pride of New Orleans, whose family was rescued and evacuated, sang "Amazing Grace." Kanye, go have your conversation with Aaron. And if you can't help the cause of support and relief, shut your dadgum mouth...

Congrats, Kanye, you have reached the threshold of "idiot" that I'm now bestowing on any who betray the responsibilities given them when they stand in front of me on camera, or behind a mic. You're in distinguished company - Pat and Rush. Well done.

  • Pace yourself. Trust me on this. I know what I'm talking about. After the initial flourish of support, the expected outpouring of folks who give and relieve the suffering of those in trouble, what happens next? Who will be there two weeks from now, two months from now? The answer? We will. There are no better outlets for immediate support in disaster than Red Cross and Salvation Army. That's what they do. When we see them, and other church groups rushing to do something right now sometimes we feel that if we're not among them, we're not doing anything. But we are. We are committing to the long haul. We are setting an infrastructure to support these folks who come to us for months if need be. I've learned this best from my experience with UMCOR in Jackson during the tornado I lived through. Don't compare our support with someone else - only compare it with our capacity to give support.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Another Definition of an Idiot

KEITH OLBERMANN: "I actually heard a commentator this afternoon—it was that Limbaugh—suggest that the issue of class and race in those who were left behind in New Orleans was irrelevant, because, as he put it, those people were not forced to live there and they weren‘t bussed into New Orleans. And I was thinking, A, this guy is even more clueless than I thought he was, which is saying something. But, B, there are people who actually believe that."