Monday, July 31, 2006

Stem Cell Stewardship

While I was gone on vacation, the “Methodist” in the White House did something that he’s not done since taking the oath of office in 2001. He exercised his appropriate presidential power of the veto, and on my birthday, no less.

Now, we can debate the presidential powers that have been abused, created, and are unconstitutional (like the unbelievable abuse of presidential “signing statements” being among them that says, basically, “Congress, I’ll sign your little law, but I reserve the right not to keep it’). But the veto is among the fundamental tools that a healthy system of checks and balance in government must honor.

That he has only used that power once, and only recently, and over the issue of stem cell research makes it clear, at least to me, that our system of government is currently at least unhealthy, and most likely diseased. John Dean, White House counsel during the Nixon years, states in his latest book that the Imperial Presidency is upon us, and it when it moves that far from centrism, we find ourselves in danger of losing our character as a democracy.

But I don’t want to criticize President Bush from a political framework. I want to approach the decision of his veto theologically. He, being a layman in the same denomination in which I’m an elder, seems like I ought to be able to do that. So, with all due deference to the NSA and all other agencies who may flag this post – fear not – I’m proud to be an American (but not in a Lee Greenwood sorta way, because I hate that damn song), no, I see myself as one who thinks John Dean is right, and we are at our best in the center.

And we’ll never get back to center as long as we continue to politicize issues such as this one. You know, like photo ops with children who were once embryos and were given life through in-vetro fertilization.

But he’s sincere, you say…principled.

I really think you’re right, he is. But when your principles are wrong-headed, who cares? Sincerity? Hardly enough of a condition to stand on.

Plenty of folks are sincere – Hezbollah is sincere, Hitler was sincere, the Christian right and left are sincere (that they are right and the other is wrong), but so what?

Any one and everyone who is certain to a fault, threatened - be it real, imagined, or exaggerated (something I'm sure the President knows a little something about), or guided by power laced with fear - is sincere.

Sincerity ain’t enough. It's especially not enough when one's sincerity is in the abstract. I can "moralize" till the cows come home from my lofty perch about "you." When it deals with me and mine, when issues have names, names of people I know, I love - when my choices are framed from a position of relationship - that principled moral boundary gets a bit shaky.

So I'm left to wonder, as our sons and daughters honorably serve in a cause with questionable moral underpinnings - where the Bush girls are. Just a question.

Sincerity and principle must be joined with what frames us. For Christians, as Methodists, is that not that we are God’s children and are obliged one to the other through Jesus Christ?

Now, on the issue of stem cells.

I’m no scientist, and I don’t know what of stem cell research is overblown and what is legit. As I understand the bill that was vetoed, it dealt solely with embryos that were literally going to be discarded. Thrown away, like so much trash.

So, what the President is saying, if I hear him right, is that he’d rather embryos been tossed in the trash than be contributed to research with the prospect of significant gains in confronting diseases that afflict millions.

Fundamentally, it’s a matter of stewardship. And on this point I believe the President, a Methodist layman, is not utilizing the faith he says matters so much to him. I wonder if he thinks of organ donation in the same way?

Does not our faith, our Methodist heritage, our fundamental understanding of the God of Creation push us to steward well all our gifts? Is it more faithful for that liver, heart, kidney, corneas to be buried than to be shared with the opportunity to benefit another of God’s creation?

To be sure, such decisions to donate are the choice of the individual or family – but it’s there, nonetheless.

I really think the corollary holds.

So, W., what has your denomination said on this matter? Aren’t you even curious?

I was.

So, I looked it up.

Some Judgments Regarding the Use of Existing Embryos for Stem Cell Research
Given the reality that most, if not all, of these excess embryos will be discarded—we believe that it is morally tolerable to use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes. This position is a matter of weighing the danger of further eroding the respect due to potential life against the possible, therapeutic benefits that are hoped for from such research. The same judgment of moral tolerability would apply to the use of embryos left from future reproductive efforts if a decision has been made not to introduce them into the womb. We articulate this position with an attitude of caution, not license. We reiterate our opposition to the creation of embryos for the sake of research. (See Book of Resolutions 2000, p. 254)

Knowing my church as I do, I was not surprised by what I found.

Are you, Mr. President?

Monday, July 17, 2006


For the next couple of weeks, I'll be silent on the blogosphere.

I'm with family in our favorite Florida place to be away.

Sabbath keeping - isn't there something in the Bible about that?

If so, why are we generally so bad at honoring that commandment?

It's even further up the list that those commandments we think that if we keep we're somehow better than everyone else - you know, don't lie, don't steal, don't commit murder, don't seek to "know" your neighbor's spouse (if, you know what I mean).

Minor stuff like that.

So, I'm going to work hard at "non-doing" these two weeks. That's a relative term, of course, because my agenda is now driven by three young men who are pretty sure they want to get into everything here they possibly can.

But that's o.k. - we're doing it together.

In the meantime, take a moment to check out some other spots on the web. My brother in the faith and in the clergy, and friend of over 20 years, Sky McCracken, has a fine site at

I'm a huge fan of Sarah Dylan Breuer - her website is full of interesting things, and her lectionary comments continually stir the imaginings of my own spirit as I ready a homily. You'll find her at

Or, keep up with the doings at Saint John's with our newly revised and ever expanding website - St. J's own creative minds are making that site pop. Way to go, Jaime!

When next we commune through the "internets," my expectation is to be, as the Indigo Girls sing oh so well, a bit "closer to fine."

I'm out.

Look for me "sprawled" on a beach in the Sandestin area - if you need me.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blest Be the Ties That Bind

Christopher has been at my parents' retirement home this week.

While Andrew's at Lakeshore, Jack and he have been enjoying the company of their "Meemaw and Granddaddy."

Kristy and I, thinking at one time of all the things we could focus on while the kids were gone - you know like each other, have discovered just how boring we are now in our middle age (well, she's not middle aged, I robbed the cradle). Turns out, we focused mostly on our respective jobs - too much to do before leaving for vacation next week.

You know how it double and triple up on work before leaving only to find that when you return, that list of "to do's" are a bit further away.

But don't get me wrong. Kristy and I are quick to acknowledge that a few days without the persistent chants of "Hey Mom," and "Hey Dad," ain't too bad of a thing.

Anyway, back to Huntingdon. Christopher has been playing with Thomas this week. Thomas' Daddy and I have been friends since we were six years old.

Thomas' Dad, Kevin, is one of the best people I have ever known. Ever.

He's a P.K., like me, which is how we first found each other. Our parents are among the closest of friends, and they, having retired in the same community, will know the blessedness of friends who are neighbors in ways they have not known since the early 1970's.

I spent many a summer week with Kevin, his sisters and parents. In those days, it always seemed that Dad and Mom had to go to Lake Junaluska or Lakeshore in the heart of July.

It's the job of a preacher, don't ya know.

Invariably, that time occurred over my birthday. You gotta get me on the couch before I can fully deal with the impact of that on my psyche!

But Kevin's family was my family.

Across the decades - through far too many family celebrations and crises that I can count, I'm aware that Kevin's family is still my family.

I sang at his wedding, he stood up with me in mine.

Kevin's mom and my mom have "arranged" the marriage of his daughter and my oldest son. That used to be cute, but now that they're teenagers, it doesn't seem they dig it so much.

Kevin's family helped me at Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary party by serving cake and punch.

In the wee hours of an April morning, when my sister in-law called me with word that my brother had died in his sleep - aware that I had to call my parents and tell them - I was at once relieved and grateful that they were in Huntingdon for the night. When I couldn't raise them on the phone, I knew of only one other home to call - Kevin's mom and dad.

I knew what love was in that moment. From friends who are family. I don't think I'll ever be able to communicate the grace of that moment for me, personally, to have them be the ones to be the first to tell my parents something I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do.

The thought that our children might get along, might befriend each other apart from family history and baggage was interesting to ponder.

Kevin and I have not maintained regularity in our contact over the years, but the bond, at least from my perspective, has never been in doubt. It's a matter of quality, not quantity. But with the prospect that quantity might increase, hope rises.

Apparently, Christopher and Thomas are very similar in their demeanor. Each fancies himself a bit of a jock (not sure how much of that is real and how much is imagined, but that's not too different than their dads, except one of us really was a jock and the other just imagined he was - I'll leave it to guess who was who).

Throughout the week, I've received updates on how it's gone.

Evidently, pretty well.

Another generation into the family relationship -One more tie to bind.

That's an extraordinary gift.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Honor Your Father and Mother

These are my parents.

They just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Last weekend, my sister and I worked to bring about a gathering of friends and family, who, across the years, have been a part of their lives.

It was a good day, a very good day.

I was in the rare position of telling my parents that Jerri Ann and I were in charge - just sit back and enjoy the day. One part of me thought that was pretty cool, but the other part had me thinking, "holy crap, I better make this thing come off without a hitch.

"Without a hitch is pretty much what happened. And it's not that my sister and I did something exceptional - we did put in some effort, but when people gather -- people who've been a part of your life for all of your life - the sacred character of community is revealed once again.

We saw friends from other chapters of our lives that only such gatherings prompt the opportunity to reconnect. Most of those we saw were among those we had not seen, gathered in such number, since Jimmy died.

To come together a little over two years later, and laugh - surely is a sign that one of grace's characteristics is such that we can laugh well even after knowing such heart wrenching pain. Pain isn't forgotten, it's never even completely gone, but grace in community is the "balm in Gilead" to make the wounded whole. It can even make the wounded laugh.

Laugh we did.

Here's a bit of my parents story: Mom and Dad were children when they married - he, 18, she 16. I can't even fathom that now, especially with a son about to be 14.

They eloped - ran to Corinth, Mississippi, which, apparently, is what a number of young couples did in those days. But they never had a party, a celebration, a reception. Jerri Ann and I wanted to be sure that this would be the party they never had.

The church was beautiful. The food was perfect. The flowers and cake were elegant. I've never seen them so surprised, content, and thankful to my sister and me. But their thankfulness was not what I was looking for it. What I wanted more than anything else was for them to be happy. I did what I did because they are my parents. There is not one thing I could do or give them that would approach the thankfulness that I should be showing them (although grandchildren might be the exception).

The morning of the reception, Dad asked me if I'd lead them in a covenant renewal service. How do you say no to that? Turnabout's fair play, I guess. He married Kristy and me, so why not return the favor? The day of the reception, I asked my folks if the lore of our family was true. They told me it was, and I asked for permission to tell the story to my congregation, which I did. I share it here now.

Upon their return to Paducah, now husband and wife - you could imagine the response from their respective parents. It was not unanimously celebrated. But it was what it was.

My Granddaddy, Dad's dad, was an archetypal figure for me. He was strong, smart, wise, worked hard, could fix anything, and got me everything I asked for. I loved him deeply and still miss the chance for my wife and children to have known him, except for this - there's a good bit of Cecil in Jerry. I see it more and more.

When mom and dad got to their house, he took my mother, sat her in his lap, and, after making it clear that this was not what he would have preferred to have happened, said, "what's done is done, you are one of us now, you're a Jeffords." And he became the primary father figure for her for the remainder of his days.

The other thing he said, in a "prove me wrong," kinda way - was this, "I'll give you a year."

Last week, as Mom and Dad went out to eat for the anniversary dinner, mom looked up to the skies and said, in a "oh yes I'll prove you wrong" kinda way" - "Cecil, we've made it 50, how about that?"

Last weekend taught me several things. The power of mutual love and commitment shared across the expanse of one's life deserves to be honored, celebrated, remembered. It is a beacon for those of us who follow. Such a celebration does not ignore the fact that not all of those days were easy, and some may have been intolerable, but endurance through the difficulties matters. Sometimes the "worse" part of "for better or worse" can be pretty rough.

When I struggle with what a crappy parent I've been, and self-mutilate my spirit because of it, I think of my parents talking about how poorly they made judgments about their children and I think, "no, you all did just fine."

But the lesson I take from my folks during this special time is that the awareness of missteps in parenting and relationships, as opposed to blindly assuming one’s always correct, is another characteristic of grace – it gives any relationship an opportunity for a course correction.

And if they are my example, maybe I'm doing o.k., too.