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Archive for October, 2011

“As a rule, most people are afraid of silence. That’s our major barrier to prayer and to depth.

“Silence and words are related. Words that don’t come out of silence probably don’t say much. They probably are more an unloading than a communicating.

“Yet good words can also feed silence. But even the word of God doesn’t bear a great deal of fruit—it doesn’t really break open the heart—unless it’s tasted and chewed, unless it’s felt and suffered and enjoyed at a level deeper than words. If you look for the citations of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, she acts, waits, listens, and asks, and hardly ever “says.”

“If I had to advise one thing for spiritual growth, it would be silence.”

— Father Richard Rohr

“Our task is to listen to the news

that is always arriving out of silence.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

———————

Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene.

Breathe God’s air.

Work under the sky if you can.

— My main man the mystic Thomas Merton

————————

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PROOF THAT JEFFERSON WEREN'T NO GOOD CHRISTIAN!!!! (o wait, never mind)

Gotta love it when atheists dismiss us Christians as being just plane stoopid peeple. Because we ain’t all that dumb really.

This atheist group out West, from where all the most weird news in the country emits, put up this billboard with a somewhat famous quote from Thomas Jefferson.

It’s somewhat famous because so many people persist in attributing it to Jefferson, who never said it. Even a rank amateur history buff like yours truly, who spent several years reading just about every reader friendly but scholarly book about Jefferson, knows that Jefferson never said this.

That said, because of his radically strange Christian beliefs–or beliefs that are considered strange and radical and wall-eyed crazy in this day and age–Jefferson couldn’t get elected in 2011 as a country dawg catcher. He’d be crucified if he ran for election today, and have his character assassinated by the non-mainstream news media (Hi, Fox News guys!) as an atheist or agnostic. Of course, his character took a pretty good raking over by his critics in his own day, but his critics didn’t have cable news channels to keep the heat turned up on him 24-7.

At the end of the day Jefferson described himself as a Christian, but he certainly was no kind of evangelical or conservative or orthodox Christian. He famously kept a personal little notebook containing certain verses from the New Testament and the Gospels. But he clipped out all the mentions of the virgin birth, Jesus’ resurrection, and the scriptures that suggested the divinity of Christ or the miracles. He called this little scriptural scrapbook, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” It’s known well known by history buffs as the “Jefferson Bible.”

And yet Jefferson was a pretty good guy, I think, for a guy so godless and who had a baby child out of wedlock with his favorite slave girl.

What do you think?

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MARY OLIVER & HER LOYAL FRIEND

Friday night I was at a banquet for our hospital’s volunteer chaplains, where the speaker was the Rev. Linda Wilkerson. She heads the Pastoral Care Dept. at Dallas’s Parkland Hospital. She also happens to be the wife of my boss, the Rev. Mark Grace, who heads the Pastoral Care Department for Baylor Health Care System, which employs me (thank you, Lord) at one of its Dallas-area hospitals.

Rather than doing a routine speech, Linda did a very interesting and interactive thing. She passed out copies of four of Mary Oliver’s poems, then read and discussed the theology and spirituality in those poems. Then she passed out pens and paper and gave time for each person there at the banquet to write a poem beginning with this line:

“Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful. . . . “*

She then invited anyone who felt comfortable reading from the poem that he or she had just written to do so. As Linda noted–“It doesn’t have to be perfect poetry; nobody’s going to grade it.” People responded by writing and reading some fascinating stuff that had poured right out of their heads and hearts.

Given the opportunity,
everybody really is a poet,
even if they didn’t know it.

Spiritual people–and clergy and theologians especially, it seems–tend to love and appreciate Mary Oliver’s poems (click here for more on her). Her writings are as rich with theology and spiritual insights as they are with her beautiful insights into nature and the wild creatures, homo sapiens included, that inhabit this Miracle that is God’s Creation.

Chaplains in hospital and hospice ministry seem to have an especially high appreciation of quality poetry, maybe because so much good poetry taps into everything that matters–suffering and death and loss, as well as resurrections and transformations and redemption, and grace in all of grace’s many eternal as well as passing manifestations.

Mary Oliver is, as a Buddhist friend of mine who is a grief counselor in hospice describes her, “so wide awake.”

Indeed, Oliver–like any good Buddhist or devout Christian or Jew or person of any deeply felt faith or spiritual practice and inclination– is wide awake to all the miracles of life that we fail to notice in all our rushing through life. Anyone who says he doesn’t believe in miracles just doesn’t have the spiritual eyes to see or the ears to hear. They somehow haven’t woke up yet, and some people never do. They stay stuck in the material, the practical, and then purport to be all about living in “the real world,” blind to what the real world really is. It seems to me that deeply spiritual people see the “real world” as a life, in this blessed Creation, in which creativity and imagination, liberation and spontaneity flourish right along with the practical and material.

Mary Oliver sees and hears and feels the “real world” with heightened intensity, inviting us all to see and hear and feel the beauty and wonder in this magnificent mystery that most of us Christian believers describe in our faith language as the Trinitarian God–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

As Oliver puts it in the poem below, entitled “The Sun,” we can stand “empty-handed” and open to the warm glow of what I see in the poem as God’s endless love and grace for us, or hold on for dear and agonizing life to “power” and “things” that keep us locked up in dark or shadowy tombs.

That, anyway, is where my mind and imagination go when I read and reflect on this great poem. And the more you read and reflect on a great Mary Oliver poem–the more times you go back and relish her language and insights–the more wonderful and Godly places she’ll take you.

The Sun

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

*Notice that the line Linda fed us for writing our own poem is the first line of Mary Oliver’s “The Sun.” It’s an interesting way of stimulating a poem out of someone who may not have writ a poem in a hunnerd years.

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CLEAR THE STREETS!!!!!

CALL THE COPS!!!!!!!

CONTACT HOMELAND SECURITY!!!!!

And oh, yeah . . . .

You might want to . . .

LOCK YOUR DOORS!!!!!!

Yes, today is the birthday of not one, but TWO Jitterbug offspring, both born under a bad sign (and both born with Jitterbug feet!) on Oct. 25!!!

Can Halloween be far behind?????

That would be my only man-boy Adam (Mo) McKay, who is 28 today.

And his little sister, Megan Joy (Meggles) McKay, who reaches that milestone (EEEeeek!) 21rst today!!!!

Happy birthday, bloods!

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In the photo (via The Daily Beast): Florida Rep. Ritch Workman in a file photo from May 2011 (left). Bill Klein & Jennifer Arnold from the show The Little Couple. Workman wants to repeal a Florida ban on “dwarf-tossing”., Steve Cannon / AP; Courtesy of TLC

One of the longtimers of the Jitterbuggingforjesus.com cult sent me an email with a link to the following article from The Daily Beast with the question, “Will this qualify as a story that ‘makes you go wow!’? This kind of thing makes me wonder what this country has come to.”

Me too. I just can’t imagine the mindset of an elected official who wants to allow “dwarf throwing” in Florida bars–and an elected official who justifies it on the grounds that outlawing dwarf throwing is “government intrusion” that limits employment for dwarfs.

I mean, we got this for enlightened and moral political leadership?

Here’s the Daily Beast article by Bill Klein, a dwarf who makes the case against drunken knuckleheads in Florida bars slamming dwarfs around.

Imagine walking into a bar and as you sit down to order a drink, you notice tonight’s entertainment on the tabletop beer menu: Dwarf-tossing, starring Joe the Midget, 10-Midnight, 2 drink minimum.

I know that some of you are appalled, and that some of you snickered. The folks that snicker are the same people that I’ve had to combat all my life.

My name is Bill Klein. I am 37 years old and stand four feet tall. My wife, Jennifer Arnold, and I appear on a reality series on TLC called The Little Couple. For nearly three years, we have been propagating the message that people with dwarfism are no different from average-height people. My wife is a successful physician at Baylor College of Medicine and I own a few small businesses in New York and Texas.

We are no strangers to being bullied. As two people that stand no taller than a grade-school child, it is hard for people to avoid noticing us—and harder still for some to keep from bullying us.

There is a proposal coming from the office of Ritch Workman (R-FL) to repeal a Florida law that currently bans the activity of “dwarf-tossing.” It might sound absurd, but this is the new jobs platform that Workman is putting forth. Make no mistake: this is bullying.

For those of you that don’t know, dwarf tossing is an activity (if you can call it that) wherein a person with dwarfism voluntarily subjects themselves to being the object or equipment in a contest where he is literally thrown. The activity is nearly exclusive to a bar setting, and the participants are normally intoxicated. Typically, the dwarf will wear padded clothing or a Velcro costume. He or she is then thrown onto mattresses or Velcro-covered walls.

In his justification for lifting the ban, Representative Workman said: “I’m on a quest to seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people. This is an example of Big Brother government. All that it does is prevent dwarfs from getting jobs they would be happy to get in this economy, or any economy. Why would we want to prevent people from getting gainful employment?” In his quest to help people with dwarfism, Workman is attempting to repeal this ban so we (people with dwarfism) can go out and make a buck.

In 1989, Florida enacted a ban on dwarf tossing, but it went further to prohibit any activity involving “exploitation endangering the health, safety and welfare of any person with dwarfism.” The first question to ask: is there a need to prohibit the exploitation of people with dwarfism from physical and/or mental anguish? The answer is the same if you were to substitute people with dwarfism with any other group of people—people in wheelchairs, people with learning disabilities, women, gays/lesbians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, etc. YES! Because most average-sized people would be difficult to “toss,” there’s no need for a ban to protect these other groups. But dwarf tossing does exist, and it’s called assault. It’s also segregating, abusive, and degrading.

Now, a couple of questions to consider after reading his statement. What is the definition of gainful employment? Dwarf tossing is not a sport—no rules or regulations, no conditioning required to participate, a lack of consideration for the welfare of the participants, no medical oversight, no medical insurance, and no future. It is simply a way to attract drunk bullies into a bar where it’s safe to practice their habitual abuse of others. The potential injury to a person with dwarfism means tax payers likely will assume the cost of care thereafter. (Dwarfism is a skeletal dysplasia that from birth includes health issues such as abnormal skeletal development and potential neurologic complications.)

Dwarf tossing does not have the support of the majority of persons with dwarfism living in Florida or the United States. What precedent does this set for states that have yet to rule on the subject? The ban on dwarf tossing was originally instated specifically to protect people from injury (and in this case, from themselves as well.) A repeal means the government has relinquished its duty to protect and serve the people. It can only do more harm. Lastly, what does it say about our country that we as a society endorse the subjugation of persons with dwarfism? Allowing dwarf tossing is a huge step in the wrong direction.

If Representative Workman wanted to serve his constituency well, he would look to create jobs for the masses. He would look to make things like Equal Opportunity Employment and the Americans With Disabilities Act mean more than an acronym employers stamp on their recruitment documents and help-wanted ads. Workman needs to examine where his efforts should be placed, and understand the privilege of being a legislator is to serve the people, to protect those that need protection and to support legislation that makes sense to everyone affected by it. Representative Workman might also consider that moral conduct guides many laws. Furthermore, he should consider that this law was enacted in 1989 because the moral compass in the state of Florida was not pointing in the right direction.

What does it say about our country that we as a society endorse the subjugation of persons with dwarfism?

Job growth will not be addressed by removing a ban that protects the welfare and dignity of a population of people. Civil liberties are not put at risk by upholding the ban, but are supported by it. While one little person might seek to be the “participant” in dwarf tossing, many others will continue to be ridiculed, objectified and denied employment due to their association with this sort of behavior. Condoning it hurts our ability as a community to develop worthwhile, life-long careers that bring more than a foggy remembrance of a drunken night at a bar. For a long time, people have wanted to seek “employment” by doing things that are not aligned with our collective moral compass—prostitution and illicit drug sales are a couple of obvious ones. Just because someone wants to make money that way doesn’t mean we should affirm that desire.

People should be free to live their lives the way they choose. However, there is a driving force that separates us from all other creatures on this planet: morality. For the most part, we all understand the difference between right and wrong. Please remind (hopefully soon to be former) Representative Workman of what direction his compass should point.

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"JESUS, HE'S MY FRIEND"

In which the Doobs celebrate their buddy Jesus:

The Raiders do their sixties ANTI-drug song:

And Arlo celebrates the magic carpet made of steel:

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Sunday was quite a bittersweet day.

It started out sweet when I stood with my brother and family as my nephew’s newborn boy was baptized. After the baptism the family and I broke bread together at a restaurant for lunch and had a great time before I had to leave for hospital duty.

But as I was leaving I checked my email on my phone and got the news that I had been fully expecting to get any day, any hour–that Morris, one of my dearest, lifelong friends, had died. His year-and-a-half battle with cancer was over, and I was relieved to know he was at perfect rest, perfect peace, with the God that he loved and steadfastly served.

But boy did I hurt. We’re never ready for the death of someone we love and care about when death happens, no matter how much we’re expecting it or think we’re prepared for it. I deal with illness and death and suffering every day, so I understand grief and the dynamics of it better than most. But I found myself sitting in my car outside that restaurant yesterday reeling like anybody else reels when death hits close to home.

I sat in the car a while and prayed and got composed and went to work, or as I always prefer to say, I went to ministry. (I don’t think of my pastoral care ministry as “work” or as a “job” or profession or anything but ministry, because God wouldn’t let me do anything else in life if I wanted to.)

As soon as I got to the office and made some rounds and visits and took care of some of my routine duties I got busy running away from my own grief for a while, as we are prone to do when grief grips us. I got very busy making plans to go this Thursday morning to Morris’s funeral in a Texas city three hours away, trying to figure out when to leave Dallas to make the 10:30 service, studying on my calendar and to-do list for the week, trying to figure out how to work this funeral into my schedule, trying to figure out how to also see my kids who live about an hour away from where the funeral will be.

I got so busy and caught up in planning to attend my friend’s funeral that I forgot to do the one thing I needed to do a while–to grieve, to allow myself to feel the real pain and sorrow I was feeling at this news that I’d been expecting but was still stunned by when it happened. It was a lot easier to get myself worked up and working hard to make plans for Thursday, getting anxious about the future, than it was to sit and let myself feel the real hurt and sorrow I was feeling for this guy I grew up with and maintained friendship with my whole life.

After a while it occurred to me that I didn’t have to knock myself out to attend Morris’s funeral anyway, and I decided not to attend at all. That may sound strange to someone who thinks an ordained minister, of all people, should attend a special friend’s funeral, especially since the funeral falls on one of this chaplain’s day’s off. But unfortunately, the funeral will be on a particular day on this particular week when it would be very difficult for me to attend or take off an extra day. So I won’t attend. I’ll send flowers, and Morris’s wife Linda–also a “homegirl” I’ve known all my life, will understand, because friends understand each other. Especially small-town friends maybe. And I was born in a John Mellencamp small town, and the small town never leaves small towners.

Besides, it would be a different matter had I not seen Morris and talked to him and prayed with him a couple of weeks ago as he lay immobilized inhis bed at home but welcoming of all his kazillions of friends. While he was still alive and able to talk I managed to tell him goodbye, to tell him I loved him, to tell him I forgave him for once giving me a couple of gum chicklets at a movie matinee at Miller’s Theater on a Saturday afternoon when we were kids.

The little gum chicklets he so generously shared with me at the picture show were laxatives. He chuckled and told me he didn’t remember that particular small town growing-up episode, but noted, “Sounds like something I’d do.”

That was Morris. Growing up, he and I were rivals to see who could be the biggest class clown.

It’s enough to know about Morris that he grew up to be a great guy, great husband of a hunnerd years to the hometown girl, a great dad to two wonderful sons, a devout Christian who was always the first one there when somebody else was sick or in trouble. He was also one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever known in my life, one who genuinely “never met a stranger.” As his wife said in our recent visit, “Morris always went to the middle of the room.”

Well, I wasn’t going to make this posting so much about Morris, since it feels so personal and private to say too much about him here, but wanted to talk here about how I grieved–or tried to avoid grief by getting busy planning to attend the service–because that’s one thing I like to do with this blawg is to educate people about the dynamics of grief. So as regards my day yesterday when I got the news about my friend–I stopped running away from my grief, decided not to knock myself out to the get to the funeral, and spent a while allowing myself to live in and feel the sorrow that gripped me a while. As any hospital or hospice chaplain or grief counselor or anybody in the caregiving ministry or profession will attest, it’s one thing to take care of people who pass through your life a while in their grief, another thing entirely when it’s your friend or loved one and your own grief. Then it becomes personally painful and feels like anybody else’s pain when a near and dear one dies.

Even chaplains get the blues, but I’m fine thank you. And find a lot of comfort in knowing that Morris is doing way better now that he’s back Home.

But his bright and shining light will be missed by many.

R.I.P., Dawg.

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