Archive for August, 2010


She’s an artist, a pioneer; she’s got the right dynamic for the New Frontier”

— From the Donald Fagen song New Frontier

Katie Sokoler is sort of out there, but fun, and certainly creative and free-spirited.
And free-spirited is always good.

dancing with strangers from katie sokoler on Vimeo.

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IN THIS United Methodist News Service PHOTO BY Mike DuBose: Students peer out through windows covered with anti-Muslim graffiti while neighbors of various faiths gather to help clean up the vandalism at the Al-Farooq Mosque in Nashville, Tenn.
A couple of weeks ago on my Facebook I wrote this: “I’d like to see more Christians walking like Christians, talking like Christians and behaving like Christians rather than tearing down other great faith traditions like Islam out of fear and ignorance. I work with Muslim doctors and nurses every day who just grin and bear it when they hear the Christian patients they treat railing against Muslims. These are Muslims who in some cases have saved these Christians’ lives.”

Two “friends” of mine on Facebook–make that two ex “friends” I didn’t really even know– sent me email messages telling me in so many words what a dupe I am for terrorists, and informed me they were de-friending me, which is OK with me, actually, because I have another 200 or so good friends on Facebook who, theoretically at least, still love me real good like friends should. And in Facebook world, the potential for new friends who will always love me, even if I wouldn’t recognize them in an elevator, is unlimited.

But back to Muslim healers.

The medical profession in this country has thousands of peaceful, compassionate and caring healers who are top-notch doctors, nurses, lab techs and medical pros of all kinds. I work with them every day. I’ve been in their homes. I’ve been out to eat or drink with them. I’ve prayed with them, and I’ve prayed with Muslim patients and their families too, who wanted me–the chaplain who wears the cross around his neck on hospital duty for all the world to know he is a Christian–to pray with them. I don’t look at “those people” as Muslims. They’re just my friends and colleagues. Some of them were practicing medicine and medical care, right here in ultra-conservative and mightily Christian Dallas, Tx, many decades before 9-11.

My one regret about what I posted a couple of weeks ago on my Facebook is that I said the doctors and nurses just “grin and bear it” when they hear patients or their families or people in waiting rooms trashing Muslims. They hear it, and the fact is, they are hurt by it. They do grin and they do appear to bear it with winks and nods, but a couple of them have told me since they saw that posting on my Facebook that it really does cut pretty deep to pass through a waiting room, or step onto an elevator, or draw some patient’s blood and hear the very person you are helping and caring for trash your peaceful religion.

And Islam is a peaceful religion. (I probably just lost several more Facebook friends with that assertion.) It is, at least, as peaceful as Christianity, which is not a very peaceful religion all in all. Turn on your teevee and watch all that throttling rage on Fox “News” before you argue to me that Christians are peaceful.

It’s been especially hurtful lately, with so many fearmongers fanning the flames over the bizarre turn of events at Ground Zero. Maybe there is a legitimate debate to be had about the appropriateness of the plans for the Islamic Center and its location, but the hatred and raw emotion and outright bigotry arising from what has become just another hot potato in the ridiculous “culture war” makes me sick.

It’s amazing how many experts and theologians there are on Islam these days. The pool of experts and Islamic theologians includes the usual suspects: self-serving politicians and pressure groups, most of the self-serving, power-mad pundits and theologians(?) like Sean Hannity at Fox “News” Network and, well . . . even too many Christian clergy who’ve never met a Muslim in their life, unless they were maybe unknowingly treated by one at a hospital when they went to the cath lab for emergency heart treatment and received a new lease on life from a Muslim doctor who didn’t look like a Muslim.

But then, what does a Muslim look like?

You may very well have your life saved someday by some Muslim doctors and nurses and other medical caregivers.

If you don’t want a Muslim medical caregiver saving your life–or even a Muslim paramedic on an ambulance crew–you might want to put that in writing and make sure you carry it pinned to your chest.

Meanwhile, I would invite you to read this “fair and balanced” news story from the always fair and balanced United Methodist News Service.

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GRITS: They have sticking power

A few thoughts and this-and-thats while wondering–Does residue from a dip of snuff stick to the ribs???:

Yer Jitterbugger is back from a trip on church business to Nashville, which has always been high on my list–probably No. 1, in fact–of friendliest cities in the country. The friendliness on this visit started almost as soon as I took my seat on the plane and met a friendly Southern gentleman and Titans football fanatic from Nashville, whose last words to me as we stepped off the plane were, “I hope you enjoy your stay in Nashville.”

I did enjoy it, and have always enjoyed Nashville, as it’s a nice city to visit and probably nice to live in, although I would think it would help to be a country music fanatic to live there. I have very discriminatory tastes in country music and tilt toward the older country music and stars and moreso the long-dead country stars, back to Bob Wills and beyond. I wouldn’t walk across the street to see, say, Toby Keith, although “Beer for My Horses” is sure-enough a great title for a country song.

Nashville has abundant grits, and I love me some grits, although it wasn’t always so. For a couple of years in my growing-up years I lived with my grandmother, a few blocks from my parents. She was such a strong-willed pioneer sort of woman–born in the 19th century and married at 16 with little schoolin’–that when she announced she wanted me to come live with her there was no argument from Deanie and Goldie McKay. She never learned to drive and she had become too feeble to do much walking, so she moved me in with her and Miss Trannie Franklow–an old school teacher and spinster who rented half her house to my grandmother–so that my grannie (“Nannie,” as we called her) could send me walking to the grocery store almost daily to pick her up two cans of Garrett snuff. She dipped snuff pretty much all the time except when she was eating grits or oatmeal. She was always going to cut down but she never did or could cut down at all, which is why, when I walked into the corner grocery store in downtown Navasota, Texas, they threw down two Garrett Snuffs on the counter before I could get the coinage out of my pocket.

Oatmeal and grits were her staples–and especially grits. She ate them at every meal and force-fed me with so many grits (“eat them grits [or that oatmeal]–they stick to your ribs!”) that it was about 35 years before I could look at another grit or a bowl of oats.

But I did eventually regain my taste for the grit and for oatmeal too, and I eat a lot of both now. One of the best parts of my trip to Nashville was the hotel’s breakfast buffet, which had good, hot grits available by the ton. One of life’s simple pleasures is dropping a scoop of real butter onto hot grits and watching it melt before you stir it in and get those white grits all jaundiced up.

I leave for my trek around China in a couple of weeks and I’m thinking I may have to take some grits, along with all the peanut butter I’m packing as I figure I’ll need lots of peanut butter for a quick and homey taste as all my hosts over there keep telling me the delicious treats they’re going to serve me like pumpkin soup. I’m trying to withhold judgment on pumpkin soup until I’ve tried it but I’m thinking I may need to chase it down with some peanut butter and crackers. Or grits.

Americanized Chinese food is not one of my favorite foods by a longshot, which is yet another reason I’m crazy for planning a trip to far-flung places in China where the Chinese food is, I would think, very Chinese. But I can subsist on peanut butter, which I pretty much subsist on anyway, and as long as I can whip up some grits to stick to my ribs on occasion I will have no fear of going hungry.

BTW, one of my hosts-to-be in Kaifeng, China, asked me in an email if I play ping-pong, which is the national sport in China, along with drinking tea I think, which seems to be the national pasttime. (Guess what everybody will be getting for Christmas from Jitterbugger this year. If you guessed all the tea in China, you got it right.)

I play ping-pong–who doesn’t, or who at least hasn’t played ping-pong–although it would probably be foolish to take on a ping-pong player in China. I had to explain to my friend in China that here we are big on football, which entails 22 men crushing each other’s bones into powder–and basketball and baseball. I had to explain that ping-pong is down on the list of American sports and we’re talking wayyy down the list.

However, I’m told that China now has basketball courts for the kids even in far-flung locales these days, thanks to Houston Rocket Yao Ming, so I’m packing lots of Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavs t-shirts to win favor with the kids over yonder. I’m sure they’ll like those.

Whether they’ll like grits remains to be seen.

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Been busy prepping for a trip tomorrow for church business in Nashville*, the former home of Country Music before Country Music got all too slick and urbane and lackin’ in anything like real country. I mean, I still listen to Dottie West, for gosh sake– she who was raised on country sunshine.***
John Anderson’s a little slick, meaning overproduced on his recordings sometimes, but anybody who sangs with an old-fashioned twang that twangy** and sangs about trains and dawgs and swangin’ on the front porch qualifies as a genuine-country enough country sanger for me. (Listen to how many syllables he can get in the one-syllable word “bank.” Now that’s country sangin’ for ya.)

(*And hopefully to find Emmylou Harris and ask her to please marry me.)
(**John Anderson should be in the Country Music Twang Sangers Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing–and probably is by now. There’s a Hall of Fame for everything else.))
(***If you remember Dottie West, or ever saw her perform as I did at some now tore-down old dance Hall in Fort Worth, you may be older than Tennessee dirt.)

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On Saturday–when most of the men out there were seeing Sylvester Stallone’s manly movie “The Expendables” and most of the women out there were seeing Julia Roberts’ portrayal of the mighty fine writer Liz Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”–I saw Robert Duvall’s latest achievement in “Get Low,” a quiet movie based on the true story of an aging hermit who staged his own funeral “party” in 1938.

I saw it with my good friend Bill Fentum from The United Methodist Reporter, where I was a scribe for a couple of years while working my way through seminary. Bill, an associate editor at UMR who holds a film degree from the University of Texas and reviews a lot of flicks, had already seen it on DVD, as a reviewer, before it opened. He wanted to see it again on the big screen.

Bill meets all the big Hollywood types. Name a film star and it’s very likely that Bill has interviewed him or her. In fact, he’ll be interviewing Robert Duvall and Lucas Black this week on a movie set in Texas, where Duvall and Black are shooting a second movie together. Black was the kid in “Sling Blade” and has grown up to be good enough to hold his own with Duvall and Bill Murray and the always superb Sissy Spacek.

“Get Low” is a low-key but wonderful movie in which Duvall performs with his usual perfect pitch. But I’ll let my movie buddy Bill sing its praises in this review of his from the aforementioned United Methodist Reporter. Click right here for the link to it.

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Poetry matters because it is beautiful. It matters because it tells the truth, the human truth about the complexity of life. . . . It matters because it is consolation in times of trouble . . . it has an unearthly ability to turn suffering into beauty.”
— Jane Kenyon


Jane Kenyon was no sensationalist–just a hard-working and spiritual poet who was all about dignity. And some days it seems like dignity is in real short supply now.

I’m always impressed by the many hospital and hospice chaplains I meet who appreciate and read good and serious poetry, and the many who write high-quality poetry. And it seems they all share an appreciation for the poetry of Jane Kenyon, whose poetry was largely about the transformation of suffering into beauty.

“Let Evening Come”
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

“Notes from the Other Side”
I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.
“Twilight: After Haying”
Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

The men sprawl near the baler,
too tired to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)

The moon comes
to count the bales,
and the dispossessed–
Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will
–sings from the dusty stubble.

These things happen. . .the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses. . .

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.

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. . . And suppose we cannot make these wars to cease in all the world. Suppose we cannot reconcile all the children of God to each other; however, let us do what we can, let us contribute, if it be but two mites toward it.”

—- John Wesley


Our earth we now lament to see
With floods of wickedness overflowed,
With violence, wrong, and cruelty,
The killing fields our constant abode,
Where men like fiends each other tear,
In all the hellish rage of war.

As listed on Abaddon’s* side,
They mangle their own flesh, and slay:
Tophet is moved, and opens wide
Its mouth for its enormous prey;
And myriads sink beneath the grave,
And plunge into the flaming wave.

O might the universal Friend
This havoc of His creatures see!
Bid our unnatural discord end;
Declare us reconciled in Thee;
Write kindness on our inward parts,
And chase the murderer from our hearts!

Who now against each other rise,
The nations of the earth, constrain
To follow after peace, and prize
The blessings of Thy righteous reign,
The joys of unity to prove,
The paradise of perfect love!

—- Hymn “Our Earth we Now Lament to See” by Charles Wesley

*(Hebrew for ‘destruction’)

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