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Archive for May, 2013

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Commander in Chief Jesus
John 15: 12-14

God bless Lt. Dan, er, Gary Sinise, who has found a greater calling in life than just his great acting career.

God bless Lt. Dan, er, Gary Sinise, who has found a greater calling in life than just his great acting career.

We can’t seem to get enough news about famous people who make the news for their spectacular falls from grace.

Maybe it makes us feel morally superior to see somebody we’ll never really know–like a Lindsey Lohan or so many fallen politicians, athletes and others–be piled on and dehumanized constantly by comedians and a vicious press.

The constant flood of news about famous but troubled people desensitizes and dehumanizes us all a little more every day. Maybe it’s in our broken human nature, which is always in need of God’s healing grace, to gawk when we pass by wrecks on the road. And part of us loves to see somebody knocked off their pedestal and get the pounding they deserve for their crimes and sins and misdemeanors.

However messed up we are, we ain’t as messed up, most of us, as they are. “I’m not as screwed up as that actor, or that idiot politician caught with his pants down, or that once heroic athlete (who we once put on a pedestal) who killed somebody. God knows I never done nothing as bad as all that!

So the subconscious thinking goes, I think. And yes, I think I’m as guilty as anybody of puffing up when I see somebody fall–especially if it’s somebody I actually know and don’t like–not just some celebrity on the news I’ll never see.

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But hey, this is Memorial Day, so enough of all that.

On a more positive Memorial Day note . . . let’s celebrate the charitable Gary Sinise, a seemingly high-minded and seemingly good man–and certainly one we can all agree is a genuinely patriotic American–who certainly makes news for good reasons.

Too bad his kind don’t make more news, but at least Sinise gets a good bit of press at that, for what sure appears to be his authenticity and his affinity for veterans and military heroes broken up in wars.

Maybe it’s enough in celebrating this talented actor and famed celebrity to say God bless him for his heroic and tireless service to our men and women who serve us. Because God knows he could certainly find far easier, charitable ways to do good with his celebrity if he were a lesser man.

For sure, lots of celebs perform or raise funds for vets, but few celebs who perform or raise money for troops and vets with performances and occasional fund raisers are as committed year-round to it.

So click here for ways to join Gary Sinise in his calling to do good for our real American heroes.

And happy Memorial Day!

Gary Sinise: Goes the extra mile with the good his fame empowers him to do.

Gary Sinise: Goes the extra mile with the good his fame empowers him to do.

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(For Adam, Iraq vet: Semper Fi, ol’ son)


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There’s something about calming influence of a beautiful garden and gardening that helps us manage life with all it’s equal measure of joy and grief, isn’t there?

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Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.

–From Paisley Rekdal’s great
poem “Happiness,”
about the power of
keeping a beautiful garden

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With a name like "Paisley" how could you not turn out to be an artist of some kind. This Paisley turned out to be a very interesting young poet--and there's many interesting and fresh poetry voices out there these days for us poetry lovers.

With a name like “Paisley” how could you not turn out to be an artist of some kind. This Paisley turned out to be a very interesting young poet–and there’s many interesting and fresh poetry voices out there these days for us poetry lovers.

“Happiness”
BY PAISLEY REKDAL

I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the white-
and-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.
—-
Taken from the Poetry Foundation Website–
click here for the link to it and the link to the poet Paisley Rekdal

Photo by Emily Polis Gibson, one of my favorite bloggers at http://briarcroft.wordpress.com/

Photo by Emily Polis Gibson, one of my favorite bloggers at http://briarcroft.wordpress.com/

—–
And BTW . . . consider giving to UMCOR. . .

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“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

— James 1: 22

“I’m having a bad day.”

“I’ll be glad when this day is over.”

“This day can’t end soon enough.”

We all have “one of those days” sometimes. But at the end of the day, what might a good day look like in the mind’s eye of a Christian?

A professor who was my mentor in seminary told me that in his prayers and reflections at bedtime, he thinks back on all the events of the day and the people he encountered or communicated with. Being the good Wesleyan Methodist that he is, he sees this sort of “rerun” of his day in light of John Wesley’s famous commandment to Methodists about do-gooding:

    “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

“The great thing about a rerun of my day,” the professor said, “is that is makes all the bad or ugly stuff I did that day stand out. Some days I give myself all A’s for goodness and some days my grades are mixed, and sometimes I have to pray to God for forgiveness.

“Sometimes I have to swallow my pride and ask somebody else to forgive me for the bad or ugly thing I did.”

I was impressed enough by his memorable words that I took up his nightly spiritual practice for myself. Naturally, I’m not always as faithful about it, or any other spiritual discipline, as I can or should be. But I’ve tried to stick faithfully enough that I don’t miss many nights of it at that. In fact, I would dare say that the regular practice of a “rerun of my day” in my mind’s eye is one of my few “good habits” among all the many other kind.

Of course, I’m still working on that part about swallowing my pride and asking others for forgiveness, and we all have our “blind spots.” We have a bottomless capacity for kidding ourselves into believing that someone doesn’t deserve our forgiveness (and surely that must somehow be fine with God that we won’t ever forgive them that; how easy it is to be a hearer of God’s word and not the doer to which the epistle of James refers).

It’s also easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we’re good enough to others when an honest-go-God grading of our day at the end of the day might not look so good on a report card.

This Christian life feels like an endless, spiritual marathon sometimes–and in a very real sense it is. But if you take it a mile and a day at a time, and for all the good or bad you do you try to be better on the next mile ahead, sure enough, maybe you’ll get your second wind (you will get it in fact) and maybe you’ll finish the race somehow, someday, in a way that the ultimate do-gooder might just say,

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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WASHINGTON — Even as Apple became the nation’s most profitable technology company, it avoided billions in taxes in the United States and around the world through a web of subsidiaries so complex it spanned continents and went beyond anything most experts had ever seen, Congressional investigators disclosed on Monday.

The investigation is expected to set up a potentially explosive confrontation between a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, at a public hearing on Tuesday.

Congressional investigators found that some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.

— New York Times, May 21

John McCain of Arizona, who is the panel’s senior Republican, said: “Apple claims to be the largest U.S. corporate taxpayer, but by sheer size and scale, it is also among America’s largest tax avoiders.”

— Sen. McCain,
on Apple’s tax dodging

To think of all the taxes I could have avoided paying to this scandalous government if I had followed Apple’s example and done a little creative and manipulative accounting–ok, a lot of that manipulating–and that without so much as breaking any laws.

Of course, I’m not big and powerful and don’t have the friends and even the friendly enemies in Congress that Apple has.

(Full disclosure: LIke everybody else I love Apple for the great products and the things they’ve done for the world, although the service I had from Apple when I was locked into a two-year contract with an iPhone and other services was so horrendous I couldn’t wait to switch, and did as soon as possible.)

But me, I don’t have the power or the money (I repeat myself) to hire high-dollar accountants for me personally to do “creative accounting” on my income taxes. How many of us do?

Your thought for the day is (Christian ethics and morality div.)–while conceding that Apple Inc. is already the biggest taxpayer in America, but also one that has carved out huge advantages that most businesses including the small guys can only dream of:

Why can’t the powerful just play it straight in capitalism as well as in government?

One answer perhaps–and noting that corruption is not always technically a crime at all: Power (almost always equated with money) seduces and corrupts (in a real sense) no matter who or what amasses it in gobs.

Power (i.e., money) corrupts politicians and governments and whole countries, businesses and corporations, universities (think college football fanaticism and paying “amateurs) even institutions like (you may have noticed) large churches.

Not to mention you or me. We’ll all use all the power at our disposal to protect our interests–and the more money and political power involved, the more prone we are to the sinful corruptions.

And who among us doesn’t want more and more power over our lives.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

— 1 John: 1: 8

Many have gone to Congress (former GOP Rep. Dick Armey comes to mind) and fought like dogs to simplify the tax code so that taxes can be filed on a postcard.

Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, politicians and giant corporations alike like the advantages they have in playing games with loopholes, credits and all kinds of exceptions–the politicians so that they have something to campaign on and stay in office forever, and the corporations for the advantages they can gain as they get bigger and bigger.

If so much else, if tax simplification were so easy, it would have been done decades ago.

But there’s political politics and there’s corporate politics too.

* * * * *

On a more pastoral note . . . .

Consider a gift to UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, where one of the most highly rated charities in the country seeing as how every penny goes directly to relief, not to overhead or administrative costs. . . .

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Sailing away for a stay on one of the scores of Belizean cayes (i.e., keys, islands). Wish you were here.

Sailing away for a stay on one of the scores of Belizean cayes (i.e., keys, islands). Wish you were here.

You may have read the news this week that some Belizean road contractor destroyed a Mayan Temple, dating back a few hundred years before the birth of our Lord.

It was also one of the largest of such ancient sites in all of ancient Belize.

Anyone from outside of the still very Third World world that is Belize, who has lived in Belize for any significant amount of time, is as shocked and saddened by this story as anyone else who thinks he’s living in the more enlightened world. But anyone who has lived here for long was just not surprised by this story–it’s somewhat typical how it goes, all too often, here in Paradise.

But please believe me–Belizeans like my good friend and current landlord Alex–a very successful Belizean contractor whose passion is business and construction–are so enlightened as to be as shocked by everybody else in the world by the sad story of this destruction of a huge Mayan site.

My friend and landlord Alex took me tramping around some of his land in the Bush on a very hot and dry day here in Belize where the hot and dry season should be ending in June, just as it's getting hot and dry in the States.

My friend and landlord Alex took me tramping around some of his land in the Bush on a very hot and dry day here in Belize where the hot and dry season should be ending in June, just as it’s getting hot and dry in the States.

Stoopidity isn’t the exclusive domain of Belize and the Third World.

Take Alabama, please. (Click here for outrage.)

Not sure which is more outrageous, the usual shunning of the first Americans or the local government’s no-bid.

Not that no-bid contracts haven’t been commonplace from the local to federal government levels for the last 25 years or so.

Lord, give me music therapy . . . and leftover pix I’ve never posted from one of the friendliest, oddest and most beautiful little nations in the world.

The view from the mountaintop where my friend and landlord Alex is building a road and clearing land to build his dream retirement home. Of course, he now has about 10 pieces of land where he's planning to build his retirement home. The jungle is so dry right now--and has been for a couple of months--that you hear the dry palms rattling out in the Bush. But things will be plenty wet, lush and green in a couple or few weeks when the peak of dry season is over and the rainy season returns.

The view from the mountaintop where my friend and landlord Alex is building a road and clearing land to build his dream retirement home. Of course, he now has about 10 pieces of land where he’s planning to build his retirement home. The jungle is so dry right now–and has been for a couple of months–that you hear the dry palms rattling out in the Bush. But things will be plenty wet, lush and green in a couple or few weeks when the peak of dry season is over and the rainy season returns.

At the soccer field, San Jose Succotz Village.

At the soccer field, San Jose Succotz Village.

This landmark, multi-million dollar casa here in San Ignacio was on the market for a while for a kazillion U.S. dollars. It might be still be as I haven’t looked in a while.

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Eating is terrific at Placencia down south on the Caribbean beach.

Eating is terrific at Placencia down south on the Caribbean beach.

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The river dividing San Ig and Santa Elena the place to be for cooling down on these hot dry days here in "The West" of Belize, near Guatemala.

The river dividing San Ig and Santa Elena the place to be for cooling down on these hot dry days here in “The West” of Belize, near Guatemala.

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Engraving on the trail to the Rio On Pools at the wilderness country of Pine Mountain Ridge.

Engraving on the trail to the Rio On Pools at the wilderness country of Pine Mountain Ridge.

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Until next time. . . .

Happy trails. . . .

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And when at Placencia Penisula watch out for low flying planes.

And when at Placencia Penisula watch out for low flying planes.

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This is the fourth in this week’s series of “Noon Wine” theological reflections about home and family.

Plant the seed by taking the children to your House of Worship, carving out a morally upright home for them--and hope and pray for the best.

Plant the seed by taking the children to your House of Worship, carving out a morally upright home for them–and hope and pray for the best.

SCRIPTURE READING: Deut. 6: 6-7

KEY VERSE: “Talk about [these commandments] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

The Rev. John Takac, one of my supervisors and mentors in my chaplaincy and pastoral-care training, one told me when I was depressed and stressed over a problem with someone over which I really had no control, “When I have that kind of problem I remind myself of this–there’s John-size problems and there’s God-size problems.”

Indeed, there’s some problems that you can agonize yourself into a wrinkled-up prune about, or you can hand it over to God in hope and prayer.

There’s just no such thing as the ability to “fix” somebody else–family members nor anybody else you care about.
* * * *

I mentioned previously in one of these postings that theologian Len Sweet attributed his success and that of his two brothers largely to the intentional “home schooling in Christianity” that their mother gave them while sending them to public schools.

But we’ve all seen or known children from the most Christian or morally upright homes imaginable who seem to be born with rebellious streaks in them that most kids outgrow if they’re able to survive the “rebellious” years in crossing the wildly swinging bridge from the teen years into adulthood.

I knew a married couple years ago who were quite intentional in creating what I imagine was the sort of Christian home environment that Leonard Sweet was reared in by his devoutly Christian mother. The couple had something nine kids, all of whom turned out to be the adults and model citizens you’d be glad for your own son or daughter to marry.

Except, that is, for the one boy who was so rebellious and incorrigible all of his life that he ended up with a lifetime sentence in prison.

“He was never the kind of kid who hung out with the wrong crowd,” my friend the father of the prisoner once told me. “He was the wrong crowd.”

* * * *

Carving out a devoutly Christian home environment is no insurance policy against bad things happening to otherwise good people–including the way in which a good kid from an exceptionally good home can turn out bad. Being Christian simply some kind of permanent vaccination against bad stuff in life. You don’t have to look far to see that the rain really does fall on the evil and the good alike, as Jesus so accurately pointed out.

I have to note, though, that the errant son of my friends straightened up in prison and ended up leading a ministry for other inmates in the lockup with his father and some of his brothers from that large, Christian family.

In creating a Godly home for your children, as Deut. 6-7 advises, you are planting seeds in the mind, hearts, souls and spirits of the kids–and you hope and you pray for them.

If a seed turns out to produce one who is less than fruitful–even seemingly rotten to the core–it might be a good idea to remember that some problems in life are simply too God-size for mere mortals like ourselves to try to solve.

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