Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bee-Dix the Cat

I'm a dog guy.

I've had cats in my life before, but my affinity for dogs is lifelong. Don't know if it's that "man's best friend" thing or not - but something about the canine satisfies.

When the day comes that a dog re-enters our family life, I will be it's calm, assertive pack leader (Guess who watches and is mesmerized by "The Dog Whisperer"?).

Having said that, though, my heart is breaking because we put our 16 year old cat down today.

Felix has been in our lives since before Andrew was born. He has endured three kids, two dogs and three relocations.

As cats go, he was sweet. Not to me, so much. There was never any question, Kristy was his. And yes, that last sentence is stated correctly.

His health has been failing the last year, and the past couple of months especially. We've pursued the usual tests and pondered courses of treatment.

"Cancer" remained out there as the likely issue.

Symptoms have been worsening, and all the while Kristy and I have wondered what to do, how far to go, when to consider ultimate issues.

Thankfully, our vet was grace-full enough to say out loud what we were scared to. It didn't make the choice any easier, but there is something validating to hear someone tell us that the best decision is often the most painful one.

Now, how to talk about this with the boys . . .

It's not like my family hasn't face death before . . . but it's never easy. It's also more difficult when you have to deal with the questions that this outcome was hastened by decisions made by us.

My older kids get it. We're trying to figure out what to tell the little one.

In the meantime - I'm thankful to have had Felix in our lives.

Oh, and the title of this post? As Christopher was learning to talk, every word had "B" sound whether one was called for or not.

Very cute. So, "Felix" was "Beedix." And it stuck.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rest in Peace, Tim

I'm an NBC guy.

Always have been.

I grew up that way. We weren't Cronkite folks. Nothing wrong with him, we just watched Huntley and Brinkley.

Christopher and I were watching the 2nd round of the U.S. Open Friday afternoon when I heard NBC chimes followed by the SPECIAL REPORT logo, I said out loud, "this can't be good."

And then, the shaken face of the network's elder statesman, Tom Brokaw.

As he shared the sad news of Tim Russert's death my response was tempered by my kid saying "Dad, are you o.k., I know how much you liked him. That is so sad."

Sweet kid . . .he who pushes every button I've got (and enjoys doing it) has the most tender heart.

MTP is appointment TV in my house - recorded, of course, but a Sunday afternoon ritual nonetheless.

Tim's talents have been widely reported. But had it not been the life he lived, his Catholic faith, knowing well from what he came, zealous about his relationships especially with family - and then having written about that so lovingly, the loss, while great, would not have been felt so deeply.

We grieve this loss because in him we see the possibility of how one can be in this life.

The story of Tim's life in the wake of his death gives us a chance to acknowledge how much those relationships matter.

Andrew, Christopher and Jack - I am proud to be your Dad.

Of all the video that could be shared from Tim - I embed this clip, the "Moment of Zen," from "The Daily Show."

Go Get 'em, Girl!

To my Memphis Conference friends,

In a day when the Church is confused about priorities, scared about its future, disillusioned with our leaders and wondering where the leadership with integrity can be found---

I have good news...

My friend and partner in ministry for the past four years is moving on from Saint John's this week to faithfully engage the itineracy in her new appointment.

She's going to the soil of my birth, Western Kentucky.

And she's going to rock!

From there, who knows...but be sure of this...there is a loving, grace-full prophetess on the loose with a voice of power and clarity speaking God's truth. For some, it will be a wellspring of grace quenching the inhospitable desolation of exclusion and self-righteous judgement. And for those who have nothing to offer but inhospitable exclusion and self-righteous judgement, her words will be no more welcome than those who've been shown the door by their "religion."

In my years of ministry, I'm not sure that I'll ever know anything more joyful than watching her find her voice and being there as she became what God called her.

Go get 'em, LJ - I'll always call you friend, but I couldn't be more proud to call you "colleague."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another Go With KO

No sooner do I suggest that KO has "jumped the shark," and needs a break so that he can jump back - then he comes bringing it tonight in a special comment.

It resonates for me because I have stood with the leaders of my denomination, you know the same one that Pres. Bush and Vice-Pres. Cheney presumably claim, and opposed this war in Iraq from the beginning with this article from March, 2003. Over five years on, too many families in distress from multiple tours - and most folks don't even know who, what or why we're fighting. Their sacrifice of noble service, as well as the thousands who have given the highest measure of devotion must have meaning - but perpetuity is not it - unless, of course, feeding the military industrial complex, is.

Our men and women's nobility of service cannot be dependant on the agendas of politicians. It is noble and they are heroic because they promised to serve, to do so with honor, and to go where sent and do so without question.

Somebody's obviously talked to KO, or maybe he's now listening to himself. Whichever is the case, it needed to happen. His last couple of comments about the President, those about Sen. Clinton, his pronouncements about Katie Couric showed signs of something other than who he was tonight. They seemed desperate and forced.

Tonight he had something to say. No rants, not forced - blistering in truth, and I was listening.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A SPECIAL COMMENT: Time for KO to take a Standing Eight Count

I'm a fan of Keith Olbermann.

Have been for a long time. Watch "Countdown" regularly. Being among that first generation to embrace ESPN - "The Big Show" was a big deal.

There are more than a few of his "Special Comments" embedded on this site. As a wordsmith, he is unmatched.

Coupling his wit with libertarian passion has been refreshing in the dark night of our nation's soul these past years.

And it's time for him to catch a breath. As we are all want to do - he is becoming what he most despised.

Whatever Murrow-esque clarity that emerged through Comments centered on then Sec. Def. Rumseld to death of Habeas Corpus - it was the crystal clarity of truth cutting through the spun fog of war, confusion and fear.

But enough already.

The O'Reilly thing is petty. Why waste so much energy on a dope?

We get it, he doesn't think W should be in office.

The once refreshing "zeal" is now really starting to resemble the ravings of Howard Beale, from "Network," something that even he enjoyed in parody.

No, it not only is starting to look like it, it's really starting to sound like it.

His most recent comments on Hillary Clinton' invoking RFK's assassination (while inappropriately stated can hardly be considered conspiratorial) and then Katie Couric's assertion that sexism had a role in Hillary's campaign demise (which he dismissed way too quickly in defense of a fellow reporter because of the one who levied it) is a reach that does not serve him well.
Go to Countdown's website and see for yourself.

And then it hit me.

I wonder if he now thinks he has to come up with a rant to be relevant. I know what it's like when you feel like you have to come up with something to say.

It comes off empty, forced--whatever truth exposed is now muted by a healthy dose of ego that's fully in the way.

So KO, I love ya buddy - but take a step back, gain some perspective - especially with an election on the horizon.

You're better than what you've been spewing.

Good night, and good luck.

It's My Journey - Get Your Own

I started this blog 3 years ago. I've offered comment on a lot of different thing in that time. Politics, the church, my life with all its joys and pains.

Over the years many of you have jumped in and offered your thoughts - words of support, taking me to task for points of view that swirled in my head.

But nothing, and I mean nothing has brought more response than my most previous post.

Evidently, "Journey" nation has taken umbrage at my thoughts concerning the current incarnation of the band.

Since that post went up about 36 hours ago - that post alone has had over 250 hits.

Now understand - 15 to 20 hits a day, across the whole blog is normal.

In the words of Frank Barone, "Holy crap!" (I'm sure that'll get the Raymond devotees upset).

Researching the sources of all the energy around little ole me- it appears that someone took a snapshot of that post and uploaded it to YouTube.

Whoever the guy is who did this said, in effect, "Sic 'em."

And they have.

Look people - Arnel Pineda has a great voice and an even greater story - I wish him well.

It's just not my "Journey."

I'm content to have my Journey wrapped up in my past, and that looked and sounded a certain way in my memory.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Pristine "Journey"

My sister and I saw Journey in concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1980. They were just starting to hit, and it was just before they would explode.

For those who have interest, "The Babys" was the opening act. What happened that night at the Coliseum and how we got home is the stuff of story that probably can't be shared here, but suffice it to say, to this day when Jerri Ann and I talk about it, we both laugh and wonder how we made it home.

Journey is one of the handful of bands that accompanied me from high school into adulthood.

They are a very talented bunch, and I'm of the opinion that Neal Schon is among the most talented and under appreciated guitarists around.

In the fall of 1981, I took part in the UN-Washington Seminar as a high school senior, travelling via bus from the Laurelwood Shopping Center across from Christ UMC to D.C. and then to NYC, to Niagara Falls and back to Memphis. Journey's "Escape" was played on the jam box's tape deck so many times through that trip that I'm pretty sure there was some sort of brainwashing and conditioning going on.

The band's front man, Steve Perry, could bring it. I didn't look a thing like him, but I dug the tenor voice and fancied myself a bit a tenor who could get it done, too, if you know what I mean.

A slow dance with my girlfriend singing, "Open Arms, " in her ear---Magic!

I share the back story to share this - Journey has a new album out.

No problem.

They have a new front man. No problem.

Believe me, I'm in a band, I get it.

It's Neil and Jonathan's band- you gotta do what you gotta do. Cetera left Chicago. Gabriel left Genesis. Roth left Van Halen, then rejoined them, then didn't, and then did, and somewhere in there is the Red Rocker - it happens.

The problem is not the new album, at least the disc one of "Revelation."

It's disc two.

Disc two is Journey "covering" Journey's hits with the new guy, who sounds enough like Steve Perry to be scary, fronting the band.

Now, why do that?

To devoted Journey fans, why have the new guy, who will have to sing the old songs in concert anyway, cover the old tunes in such a way as to erase Steve's presence from the group and his history with it?

After all, it's Perry's voice the new guy is emulating - no doubt about it.

Funny thing, the human animal - the capacity to rewrite history in such a way that if you say it was so long enough and loud enough, even though it wasn't, people will believe it anyway.

Well, Steve, I ain't a forgetting you brother. I feel sure you were a pain in the butt in the band, but those pipes get you a pass in my book. I wish the new guy well with the new material - but the classic stuff? That belongs to you, and the memories of what my encounters with that music brought cannot be bought by an attempt to redux.

Got to Get Away

In the past month I've been gone, that is, out of town, for total of about a week and a half.

One of my staff asked me if I had enjoyed my vacation - "Vacation? That was work," I said in a tone that I'm pretty sure was a whole lot more defensive than I meant for it to be.

"Well," he said, "it was a vacation from here."

True enough, I supposed, but it was not vacation.

A continuing education event and our annual conference - not the stuff of "holiday."

And while I've "been away" doing work related things, there is a deeper, hidden truth - if I don't "get away," and soon, I'm going to go nuts.

I've got to get away, with my family, from the expectations and obligations of our lives here, if only for a short time. As complicated as our lives are when here (and by complicated, I don't mean bad - just complicated), to be anywhere else together gives us the opportunity to connect differently.

And that's the thing, isn't it? With every relationship - partner, friend, child - there is an essential need to make new and different connections to foster vitality. Otherwise, we merely become the roles we play in relationship and not live in the intimacy of being in relationship.

So, I've got to hit the road - got to get to the beach, the place where the best medicine for my soul comes. I've got to fish off the dock behind the cottage. I've got to go tubing with the boys, spend a day at the Big Kahuna and maybe, just maybe - have a date with my wife.

Just under two weeks before we hit the road, squeezed by the anticipation of going and the load of work to be accomplished before leaving - I'm in that tumultuous place that happens to any of us living in the "almost, but not yet."

There's also the price to be paid for going at all. That price exacted upon return. You know how that goes - ever said "I need a vacation from my vacation" when you get back and try to catch up?

But some prices are worth paying - and this is one of them.

In the meantime - breathe, Johnny, breathe - be patient - time is coming.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Radical? Really?

The word is "radical."

I've heard it spoken multiple times over the past several days.

The word following it was "hospitality."

It served as the "theme" for the 2008 session of The Memphis Annual Conference. Our gathering just adjourned yesterday.

"Radical Hospitality," one of the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book by Bishop Schnase, is all the rage right now. As Churches lose their way - they become desperate for something to "do" to stem the tide.

Bishop Schnase's book is a helpful, compact guide to open the awareness for any who seek to tap into the characteristics of vital congregational life.

My concern, however, is how easily the word "radical" rolled off the tongues of any and all who employed it during the Conference. Something that should challenge, prod, push our comfort zones and boundaries - something that should make any and all of us squirm was invoked as an action plan.

As it is with so many things in the church - this is going to be a church "program."

You don't just "do" radical hospitality - you must first have a heart to be radically hospitable. Sure, we all have things to "do" in our congregations to be more welcoming to any and all who come to us - and those things must always have proper priority.

Radical hospitality is of the sort that causes folks to squirm because it welcomes those nobody else will - those with labels, those with reputations that are not always favorable, those whose presence, not only in our worship, but in our own lives, cause us to question the preconceptions we've placed on them not because we know them, but because we know what we think how "people like that" are.

Jesus associated with these folks - and who was hacked off? Religious folks. To program radical hospitality and not make it incarnate is to vitiate it of its power and Gospel witness. And to be hospitable in the name of Jesus without being radical is to homogenize it (as we do we so much of the Gospel) and make it too palatable.

Make no mistake about it. Homogenized hospitality will yield homogeneous congregations - something we have an overabundance of right now.

Even the artwork of our Conference, while integrating elements of the cover of Bishop's Schnase's book, to communicate something natural, organic and alive, could easily be interpreted as "Radical Hospitality" wrapped in camoflouge - which is to say present, but hidden.

Radical comes from the word from which we get "root." Too many of us think of radical as being whacked out - on the fringe. Radical hospitality is the opposite - it moves us to the essential nature of our being - the foundation of who we are. And for the Christian community, that root can be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

Which brings me to the "why' of radical hospitality. It felt, more than once, that we were being told to practice "radical hospitality" as a means through which we might realize church growth and renewal. That may be true, but it should not be seen as a means to an end - it loses its authenticity otherwise.

There's way too much "means to an end" thinking in church leadership anyway. Results and the ways of Jesus are not synonymous. They can be in sync, but they are not always congruent. In fact the way of Jesus is the harder path. Always.

A church that is radically hospitable will grow and find new life. The radical part is that it will grow in ways it can 't expect or predict. The truer measure of just how radical your hospitality is not if you grow numerically - but if you grow by shrinking.

Jesus did teach about pruning the vine, did he not?

The challenge is that churches have to ask whether it wants any part of that. If it doesn't (and I suspect most really don't want to be too radical) then they'll delude themselves into thinking that new signs and visitor forms will bring them more members and call that hospitality.

But if a community of Jesus' companions truly does practice it, in all its "radical-ness," the "Gospel" will be lived. Lives will be changed. The stranger will be welcomed as family.

And the "religious folks" will still grumble.