Wednesday, May 31, 2006

May Ramblings

Some thoughts at May's end . . .

+ Katie Couric, leave already.

+ We saw "The DaVinci Code" last night. And I was right. The movie in my head was much better than the movie on the screen. The scenery was great, but there was too much to accomplish from the novel in order to make the movie work. I don't blame Ron Howard, it was just too much to ask. The movie assumes you've read the book, which, for everyone but my wife, isn't a problem - but she was lost.

To the movie's credit, however, the historic flashbacks were excellent, especially the one around Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.

And finally, why is Ian McKellan in every movie right now? Gandalf, Magneto - Teabring - enough already!

+ My recent foray into the public domain of letters to the editor has been interesting. It hasn't been my first, but it was my first in quite awhile.

If you want to read the unedited version of the letter (the CA took a few liberties, but it goes with the territory, I guess), go to the "Standing With Trish" post.

The response from Sunday's paper has been mixed - not that I care.

C.W. (I'll be polite and spare you his name and email address) writes:

The ACLU is fighting Christianity and how you can call yourself a Christian and defend them in a letter to the paper is beyond my understanding. You make me ashamed to call myself a Methodist.

Well, for one, I wasn't defending the ACLU - I was showing support for a congregant who was being pummeled by misguided folks like you.

By the way, when enough of your civil liberties have been taken from you, you'll think differently about any group that seeks to protect them - you can count on that.

And finally, sir, I'm ashamed to call you a Methodist, too.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I've Never Been to Spain, But I've Been to Oklahoma

I read today that more people voted for the American Idol boy than any President in American history.

Therein lies our problem - run for your lives, civilization as we know it is over.

I don't get it.

But I've got the feeling I'm missing something.

But so what?

My ambivalence about "must sees" and "must dos" probably reveals more about my own character than I'd care to admit.

I don't watch American Idol - never have - don't care.

Don't watch Survivor, Fear Factor, CSI's, Desperate Housewives...

I didn't see Titantic - Why? Because everyone told me I had to, plus I know what happens.

I've never been on the Walk to Emmaus - Why? same reason (although I'm not supposed to know what happens, I've seen the "playbook").

I've never seen "Gone With the Wind," and frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn.

Don't know if it's just how God made me, or, if it's plain old Jeffords' stubbornness (which some folks know really well), but don't tell me what I have to do, or that somehow I'm not in, or complete until I've done what the in crowd expects.

Standing With Trish

Trish is a member of my congregation who has made the news in Memphis.

She is a PhD high school chemistry teacher who has not been renewed at her school, one year before tenure.

That kind of thing happens in educational institutions.

The suspicion, however, is that her firing had little to do with administrative cutbacks, and more to do with the fact that she is the faculty advisor for her high school's ACLU club.

And, as appropriate, the club raised questions about the the principal's involking Jesus name over the school's PA system - whether or not there should be sanctioned prayer at graduation.

You, know, stuff like that.

People in her community have turned their backs on her.

Her congregation will not.

In response to several recent articles in "The Commercial Appeal" and local TV outlets, I sent the following letter to the editor of the CA.

I've read with keen interest the events reported from Munford surrounding prayer at graduation, the ACLU, and the scapegoating of Trish Kilzer, whose contract was not renewed despite excellent evaluations and performance records.

My interest is piqued predominantly because, while I have concerns about the often too blurry lines between the role of church and state in the current climate, I am, as it relates to this story, Trish's pastor. And I'm proud to be so.

Trish is woman of deep Christian conviction, compassion, and a practitioner of the radical hospitality of the Gospel. I've seen grace at work in Trish's life and ministry, and I affirm God's gifts in her.

The dynamics at play within the administration and faculty of Munford school is the compelling question here. The rights of students to offer prayer is not.

The rule of law of our country has determined whether or not there should be sanctioned prayer in school, and the boundaries at that point must be honored, especially by those charged with administrative oversight.

But there is prayer in school. It's what happens when people pray. Which any person may do. To say that because there is no school sanctioned prayer there can be no prayer in school is just silly. Prayer happens when it happens - it needs no sanctioning body, and neither should it have one.

Prayer, as a spiritual discipline, is not a right, it is an expression of faith lived out and a desire to be in dialogue with God. We pray not because we can, but because of who God is. Neither is prayer to be made a spectacle. For when it is, the act of praying becomes idolatrous and the focus is no longer on the One to whom prayers are presumably offered, but the one who is praying.

I suspect that many who are among Trish's colleagues count themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ. What confuses me, then, is how they can so easily castigate and demonize her with a judgment that is so mean-spirited. I appeal to the better angels of their nature to judge less and love more. I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus would have us do. See, God does not need defenders, God needs people who will love God with all they have and are, and their neighbor as themselves.

Rev'd Dr. Jonathan L. Jeffords
Senior Pastor, Saint John's United Methodist Church
Memphis, Tennessee

Friday, May 19, 2006

I Got Your Code Right Here

I grew up with a rule about how wrong it is to talk about folks who can't defend themselves. That's what bullies do.

That's a pretty good maxim to live by.

In many ways, it's one fundamental to any definition of justice.

So, if true, I find myself wondering what Leonardo must be feeling these days.

From the outset, let me be clear. Two summers ago on vacation, I read four books, all by Dan Brown - in two weeks, mind you. In order, "Angels and Demons" (which is far superior to "The DaVinci Code"), and, of course, "The DaVinci Code," "Digital Fortress," and "Deception Point." I figured I'd read everything this guy had out. Like John Grisham, his style becomes predictable. Enjoyable at points, sure - but predictable nonetheless.

When I finished "Angels" and "DaVinci" I remembered thinking, "they're going to ruin this when they make the movie."

Early reviews of Ron Howard's work seems to validate my fear. I like Opie and Forrest, but some source material is best suited for the movie screen that is projected between the ears and not on the silver screen in the movie house.

Some things don't translate well.

A few thoughts on DaVinci mania -

My wife is one of about 12 people in the world who hasn't read the book. She wondered if she should before going to the movie. I told her to read the book and forget the movie.

Let's go see something good.

In the last two weeks, I've been amazed by the number of churches who need to decode the "Code."

Or, to prove that Dan Brown is just plain wrong.

Nevermind that it's a NOVEL, for God's sake.

Why is the Church so paranoid that a work of fiction is so threatening? I hear Jesus saying to us "You of little faith."

And to boycott a movie based on a book that just about everyone but my wife has read, what's the point?

I don't remember boycotting or calling for one when the gospel according to Mel Gibson came out. I think I said, if you want to see it, go see it, and then let's talk about what it means.

Where were the boycotters when that "Left Behind" drivel was published and made into movies?

At least Brown has some sense of historicity on his side.

Herein we come to the rub.

There is history in the formation of the movement. It's not all pretty. Some of it co-opts other practices in the times in which the Christian movement was formed. You think pluralism is a convention of our time?

Think again.

The Christian movement, spread across the Gentile world, lived within a diversity that we can't begin to capture in our time, because we're too busy trying to convince each other that we're right and you're wrong.

The Church of our time lives in the ignorance of historical considerations. We follow that other maxim that guides too much of our lives -

"What you don't know won't hurt you."

It's like making sausage. I don't want to see it made, I just want to enjoy the finished product.

You may not like it, you may not know it - you may just think the Church mystically and magically has become what it is - and if you do, allow me the slightest sadistic pleasure to burst your theological bubble.

There are parts of our history that will make you cringe. And it ought to.

Walter Wink talks about systems and structures that are fallen just as is humanity. The Church, divinely guided but human in many ways, is a fallen entity. But thanks be to God, it is not for us to save the world, but God who redeems the fallen of every time and place and empowers us to be instruments of grace.

As such, we are reminded that it is God through us, and not we ourselves, that grace is operative.

Hmm, seems like I've heard something like that before.

So, go to the movie if you want to. I guarantee you - if you've read the book, it won't come close to the movie in your head.

Oh, and one more comment on the movie. That "militant" group that's all upset about how they are portrayed in the movie and book - and no, I'm talking about albinos.

Rather, Opus Dei.

Would that a group like that existed that cleaned up the, uh, "clergy problems" that abound.

If they open a Memphis Conference Chapter, I'm in.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Liberty Down

Here are two voices that raise the growing threat on the essential character of our founding - as people who are free.

I hear alot about freedom these days. Stuff like "freedom isn't free." That's probably right. It has been paid for with the blood of our sons and daughters. It is something to be honored, protected.

Ultimately, though, it is something to be lived.

Freedom lived out is something that honors the price paid. Freedom was so important that a document of such perceived perfection, The Consitution of the United States, needed to be amended to insure that certain freedoms were crystal clear.

And right now, our freedoms are being taken, one by one, by those entrusted to defend from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

These are folks whose orchestrations to defer their moment of service back in the day should give pause to everyone.

The first word here is from Craig Crawford and his recent offering on Huffington Post -
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

The second is a work of fiction, but is true for our moment in time.

This mp3 file is a scene from "Boston Legal." I don't watch that show, but I might start. James Spader's character is defending his client, who, in her protest of her country's behavior, chose not to pay her taxes.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Feel Me Better"

Jack has this thing he says when he as a "boo-boo,” or when something’s just not right.

He needs medicine to “feel him better,” or a good night’s rest will help “feel him better” for being so tired.

It’s cute.

He’s four, what are you going to do?

As it was with Andrew and Christopher, so it is with Jack, the language of their childhood matriculates into the common language of our household.

Our family's vocabulary is full of phrases here and there sprinkled across our lives together.
Invariably, when one of these little phrases or names is spoken, as if we are somehow conditioned to do it, Kristy and I will try to remember from which kid it originally came.

The older you get, the older the kids get, unless you have a family scribe to document each and every one of these little nuggets, it's harder and harder to correctly attribute their contribution to the family lexicon.

But we know it's from one of them.

It’s a language that no one else would quite get if they observed us in our element. They would wonder, “What sort of ignorant parents teach their children to talk this way?”

Truth is - they’re the ones who have taught the language to us.

Well, as it relates to Jackie and “feel me better,” he has this fascination with Band-Aids for his “boo-boos.” And darned those Band-Aid marketing geniuses who figure if they put favorite children’s characters on their product, kids will more readily use them for their “boo-boos.”

And they were right.

Jack loves his Backyardigans Band-Aids. In fact, he is glad to have one put on him, and an actual “boo-boo” is not even required. We’ll get the song and dance about how his “boo-boo” which he’ll show us (there’s nothing there), needs a Backyardigans Band-Aid to “feel him better.”

When we assure him that there is no “boo-boo” to cover, the fit he throws to convince us there is puts me in the mind of Bill Cosby’s household routine in which he recalls, as he’s raising kids, that parents are not interested in what is right, or justice, parents are only interested in "quiet.”

Amen, brother.

When we put a band-aid on, he becomes a new man.

When he actually has a "boo-boo," the therapeutic value of that little strip is darned near miraculous.

After awhile, we assure him that whatever wound he has will only really get better uncovered to let the air get to it.

He's resistant - but ultimately agrees.

So therefore, we have to put a Band-Aid on his newly found make believe "boo-boo" instead so that it will "feel him better."

It occurs to me that people of faith are too quick to band-aid their spiritual wounds with things that seem to have benefit - but find in time that the like the real band-aid, if the wound isn't cleaned it will hold in the contaminants prompting infection rather than protect the wound from them.

But in the open air, the wind, the Spirit, the Breath of God, we are made whole.

What is it the prophet said?

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. Isaiah 53

When my body is sick and when my wounds are deep, I need medical care and intervention. The same can be said of the wounds of my soul that can run so deep it threatens to infect the very essence of my being.

I need Jesus, the Wounded Healer, and the fresh winds of the Spirit.

I need the community of companions Jesus has called to hold me, love me and create an atmosphere of grace to "feel me better."

That's who we are.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Flocked" Easter 4

Homily for Easter 4
based on John 10.11-18 and Psalm 23

Do we ever appreciate the fullness of what it means to declare the Lord our Shepherd? More than a notion of pastoral care, the declare God our Shepherd, and to hear Jesus proclaimed as "the Good Shepherd," is to understand that this only one loyalty that is both required and expected. Given the varied "flocks" of which we seek to be a part, what is asked of us is more than we ever thought.

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Rest in Peace - ProScan 36' Color TV

I received some "awful" news today.

After a week at the TV hospital, we learned that our 13 year old television can't be repaired. Back when we bought it, it was among the largest CRT tv's available.

Seems they just don't make the parts for it anymore.

Sigh, sigh, sigh.

My wife is pretty sure I paid the tv guy off to say that.

Who? Me?
Wonder where I'll turn for comfort?!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Profile in Courage? You Betcha!

While everyone's hyperventilating and getting their knickers in a bunch (especially the right wing who felt their poster boy was attacked) over Stephen Colbert's comments at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner last week, here's one voice of appreciation for the courage it took to face power eye to eye and use satire and parody so masterfully that even Mark Twain would have been envious.

satire, term applied to any work of literature or art whose objective is ridicule. It is more easily recognized than defined. From ancient times satirists have shared a common aim: to expose foolishness in all its guises - vanity, hypocrisy, pedantry, idolatry, bigotry, sentimentality, and to effect reform through such exposure. The many diverse forms their statements have taken reflect the origin of the word satire, which is derived from the Latin satura, meaning "dish of mixed fruits," hence a medley. - Columbia University Press


I don't think I could have done that, not sure I'm that brave.

The critique as to whether or not that was the proper venue for what he did has its place, I supppose, but isn't that the whole point of satire anyway? One critique was that he just wasn't funny. Of course, it's the press corps saying he wasn't funny. What do they know? They were skewered by his biting remarks just as dramatically as was the President.

Isn't satire meant to make you squirm?

Isn't satire meant to address real issues and follies in the guise of humor, or, in Colbert's case, the advocacy of positions he's criticizing?

Of course they didn't think it was funny...they were the punch line. But for the benefit of the powerless looking in - a measure of comeuppance is sweet, oh so sweet.

Take a look -

There is nothing more fundamentally American than what Colbert did.


And I would remind those who think we don't do such things to the President - contrary to how we've had to live with the unabashed abuse of power in the executive branch, we do not have a King of America (Check out "King W" post of some time ago for more on that one), we have the product of a democracy. (And yes, we can debate the validity of that one, too).

But it is what it is.

And when we can no longer face power and call it into account, we might as well close the doors, cause this experiment in democracy will be over.

"Parodies and caricatures are the most penetrating of criticisms." - Aldous Huxley

Colbert's "truthiness" - Colbert introduced the word "truthiness" on the premiere episode of The Colbert Report, on October 17, 2005. He came up with the idea of "truthiness" just moments before filming for the show began. [2] He used "truthiness" in a monologue that emphasized its role as an ironic political polemic compressed into a single word, as demonstrated in the following excerpts:
"I will speak to you in plain, simple English. And that brings us to tonight's word: 'truthiness.' Now I'm sure some of the 'word police,' the 'wordanistas' over at
Webster's are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.' Well, anyone who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books....
"I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. 'Cause face it, folks; we are a divided nation. Not between
Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart...
Harriet Miers. If you 'think' about Harriet Miers, of course her nomination's absurd. But the president didn't say he 'thought' about his selection. He said this:
(video clip of
President Bush:) 'I know her heart.'
"Notice he didn't say anything about her brain? He didn't have to. He 'feels' the truth about Harriet Miers.
"And what about
Iraq? If you 'think' about it, maybe there are a few missing pieces to the rationale for war. But doesn't taking Saddam out 'feel' like the right thing?..."
Colbert gave an out-of-character interview with
The Onion's A.V. Club, in which he responded to the question, "What's your take on the 'truthiness' imbroglio that's tearing our country apart?" by elaborating on the critique he intended to convey with the word "truthiness":
"Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word...
"It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?...
"Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality."
[3] from

Monday, May 01, 2006

A New #34

I have new favorite NFL team.
For one reason, and one reason only.

No, it's not #20.

But #34 is just as good.

In fact, I own a #34 jersey from someone they called "Sweetness," because when he ran, it was a thing of beauty to behold. Walter, another great runner will be wearing your number. I believe he can live up to the legacy you left.
Rest in peace, Sweetness.

And don't get me started about another #34 who ran with power wearing Houston's powder blue (Of course, that's back when I actually liked Bud Adams' team). Earl's power was awesome.

And he wore #20 during college, too.

That's not bad company to keep.

Go get 'em De!

"City of God" Easter 3

Luke tells us to stay in the city - from where power is received from on high.

Words we need to hear now more than ever.

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"Breath Support" Easter 2

Isn't it interesting that Jesus' first post-resurrection encounter with his disciples in John involves - forgiveness, peace, breath, belief?

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