Archive for May, 2015

Today is “Trinity Sunday” in the church’s liturgical year, a day in which churches of so many denominations including Protestants celebrate the mystery of God’s being as the Holy Trinity.

That is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer.

As noted in the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003:

    “The triune God is the basis of all we are and do as Christians.

    “In the name of this triune God we are baptized.

    “As the baptized ones we bear the name of the triune God in our being.

    “We are of the family of the triune God. We affirm this parentage when, in reciting the creeds, we say what we believe.

    “Our discipleship is rooted in the mighty acts of this triune God who is active in redeeming the world.

    “The triune God is the basis of all our prayers — we pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

    “The Trinity holds central place in our faith.”

* * * *
My friends and readers . . .

God is with us. This is the great promise, the synthesis of all that was revealed from the beginning.

God is with us. This is the final summary of the Good News of God passed on to us in Matthew’s Gospel.

Consider these three scriptures:

    “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said:

    ‘I will be with you.'”

    — from Exodus 3: 11-12
    * * * * *

    “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

    “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means,

    ‘God is with us.'”

    — Matthew 1: 22-23

    * * * * * * * * * *

    “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold . .

    I am with you always, to the close of the age.'”

    — Matthew 28: 16-20

Russian icon by Andrei Rublev (1360-1430) depicting the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18).

Russian icon by Andrei Rublev (1360-1430) depicting the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18).

That we may proclaim the gospel boldly:

Hear us, Lord.

That we may offer your healing for all who are sick, and people who are torn and weary:
Hear us, Lord.

That we may be channels of your mercy over all your works on earth:
Hear us, Lord.

That all who are unclean may receive your cleansing grace:
Hear us, Lord.

That all who are possessed, oppressed, distressed, depressed, poor and downcast may be set free at last.
Hear us, Lord.

All blessing and glory,
thanksgiving and power,
wisdom and honor and might,
be yours, Holy Triune God,
now and forever.

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United Methodist church volunteers cleaning up in the heat and mess of storms and a tornado in Van, Tx. in a scene that has played out in places all over Texas and the Southeast lately.

United Methodist church volunteers cleaning up in the heat and mess of storms and a tornado in Van, Tx. in a scene that has played out in places all over Texas and the Southeast lately.

I’ve seen first-hand, many times, the shock and trauma that can devastate people in hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other weather-related disasters.

So even though I’m a world away from my home state of Texas, I know the trauma that so many Texans–God help them–are suffering right now.

The hardest and most challenging duty I ever had in my journalism career was covering weather disasters, and Lord knows I covered more than my share of catastrophic floods like the ones we’ve seen in Texas and other states lately.

The 1993 flood in the Mighty Mississippi Basin has been called “The Great Flood,” but every flood is disastrously “great” when it devastates you and your life for a long time to come. Pray for flood victims and please consider a donation for relief.

I covered killer floods not only in flood-prone regions of Texas, but also the Big Daddy of all American floods that was the Mississippi River disaster of 1993. The elaborate systems of water-control failed in the Mississippi River basin, leading to the greatest flood ever recorded on the Upper Mississippi.

In St. Louis alone, the Mississippi remained above flood stage for 144 days between April 1 and Sept. 30, 1993. A Houston Chronicle photographer and I traveled up and down multiple states gathering pictures and stories, sometimes going out on boats with guides who took us over whole towns that were deep underwater beneath us.

I also covered a massive flood in Texas, in the early nineties as well, that killed more than 20 people. This was a flood that occurred literally in my own back yard, as I was living in a lake house at the time on Lake Conroe, a popular recreational reservoir north of Houston.

My first challenge in covering the flood was getting out of my own neighborhood. Thankfully, my house was far enough away from shore that the waters stopped just short of my front door, sparing me a flooded house. Many of my neighbors who lived right on the shores were not so fortunate.

Covering floods entails all the nasty stuff that rescue and relief workers face–snakes everywhere and fire ants on drift wood and stifling heat and humidity after the rains stopped, and sickening stench from dead animals and dead waters unable to drain. The difference is that rescue and relief workers do such heroic work, putting their lives way more on the line than reporters, of course.

But reporters as well as relief workers see the shock and trauma in the faces of people who narrowly escape deaths, or who have seen loved ones drown, and all the rest.

We tend to associate post-traumatic stress with war, but it actually goes with every kind of disaster.

And a lot of people in Texas, Oklahoma and other places are going to be coping with PTS for a long time, long after the news media have moved on to the next disaster.

In my morning and evening prayers I routinely send up prayers for people all over the world suffering from disastrous events beyond their control, events that make the news such as wars and genocides, famines and diseases and of course, violent weather.

But rain and flooding of “biblical proportions,” as they say, has hit close to home in my beloved home state of Texas.

Watching the violent weather that has swept such a huge portion of a state that is bigger than so many nations caused me ever-rising anxiety and worry and regions one-by-one got smacked harder than the previous area. (The news this morning, however, is still not good as evacuations are continuing and will be in places.)

I thank God my family and scores of friends back home came out OK in it all, as far as I can tell.

But I’m keeping the others in prayer and, including the many people who were already poor or struggling to survive financially, and sending a few bucks for disaster relief to UMCOR, and hope you’ll donate to it or the Red Cross or some credible source.

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This 4th-century poem by the Christian poet and hymnist Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was translated by the Irish poet and playwright Helen Waddell for performance at JFK’s memorial service in 1963.

“Take him, Earth, for cherishing
To thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit’s dwelling,
By the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
Not unmindful of his creature
Shall He ask it: He who made it
Symbol of His mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
To fulfill the hope of men,
Then must thou, in very fashion,
What I give, return again.
Body of a man I bring thee.
Not though ancient time decaying
Wear away these bones to sand,
Ashes that a man might treasure
In the hollow of his hand:
Not though wandering winds and idle winds,
Drifting through the empty sky,
Scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
Is it given to man to die.
Once again the shining road
Leads to ample Paradise;
Open are the woods again,
That the Serpent lost for men.
Take, O take him, mighty Leader,
Take again thy servant’s soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
Balm upon the icy stone.
Take him, Earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble in its ruin.
By the breath of God created.
Christ the prince of all its living.
Take him earth, for cherishing.”


It feels a Shame to be Alive –
When Men so brave – are dead –
One envies the Distinguished Dust –
Permitted – such a Head –

The Stone – that tells defending Whom
This Spartan put away
What little of Him we – possessed
In Pawn for Liberty –

The Price is great – Sublimely paid –
Do we deserve – a Thing –
That lives – like Dollars – must be piled
Before we may obtain?

Are we that wait – sufficient worth –
That such Enormous Pearl
As life – dissolved be – for Us –
In Battle’s – horrid Bowl?

It may be – a Renown to live –
I think the Men who die –
Those unsustained – Saviors –
Present Divinity –

— Emily Dickinson

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“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours, no feet but yours;

yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world,

yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good

and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Teresa of Avila

*(Image “Pentecost Fire” is by United Methodist minister, artist and poet the Rev. Jan Richardson from her great blog The Painted Prayerbook. Click here for more.)

*And this blogger’s message for Pentecost is: dare to love and to seek peace, mercy, forgiveness, understanding and justice in a broken, violent, unjust world.

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Find out the rest of the story below here at your favorite blog.

Find out the rest of the story below here at your favorite blog.

Culinary scholar Michael W. Twitty is one of the most interesting of today's food writers, with interests that range from African American and Jewish culture to all kinds of forgotten Americana.

Culinary scholar Michael W. Twitty is one of the most interesting of today’s food writers, with interests that range from African American and Jewish culture to all kinds of forgotten Americana.

America takes time each year to celebrate the sacrifices of our war dead; this year, we should take a moment to also honor those who, despite facing hardships of their own, chose to commemorate the lives that had been lost partly in the service of securing their freedom from enslavement.”

— food writer and historian Michael W. Twitty

Food is all the rage these days, since TV food channels have made celebrities out of chefs and food writers (and investigative reporters like Michael Pollan* specializing in food but that’s another story).

Michael W. Twitty, a Judaic studies teacher, among other things, is steadily gaining acclaim as a unique food expert and historian.

He describes himself at his blog as . .

“. . . a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian, and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.

“Michael is a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests include food culture, food history, Jewish cultural issues, African American history and cultural politics.”

With that, I commend an article of his in the fine and very good newspaper The Guardian that begins as follows:

    “African Americans have fought and died for America from its earliest days, from frontier skirmishes to the French and Indian Wars to the fall of Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, immortalized as “the first to die for American freedom”.

    “And though most official histories of Memorial Day credit with its founding a white former Union Army major general, whose 1868 call for a Decoration Day was reputedly inspired by local celebrations begun as early as 1866, the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.”

The Union major general mentioned above was Gen. James A. Logan, who was made famous in the excellent Civil War movie “Glory.” (See here for the late, great Roger Ebert’s 1990 review of the movie that became an instant classic.)

So if you’re interested in food and American history in all its, uh, Glory, you can find the Guardian piece by Michael W. Twitty* here

Union Gen. Logan, made famous in the great Civil War movie “Glory,” is credited with starting what came to be known as Memorial Day. But the roots of the observance (Memorial Day is supposed to be observed, not “celebrated”) involved slaves.

*Here is Michael Twitty’s web page Afroculinaria:

** Find more on Michael Pollan’s work here.

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Poetry for your lazy Saturday morn by the terrific poet William Stafford, who, by the way, wrote this line for a poem on the day he died of a heart attack in August 1993:

    “‘You don’t have to

    prove anything,’ my mother said.

    “‘Just be ready

    for what God sends.'”

Funny how great poets have such strange lives and the strangest of deaths and on that happy note: Stafford’s pleasant little “Any Morning” follows.


“Any Morning”
A Poem by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

And speaking of women we love (see prior posting on Lady Tickle's non-fear of dying.

And speaking of women we love (see prior posting on Lady Tickle’s non-fear of dying. Teresa of Avila will always be the greatest of great Christian writers, undoubtedly.

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At 81 you figure you’re going to die of something, and sooner rather than later,” she says, sitting at her kitchen table for her first interview about her diagnosis. “I could almost embrace this, that, OK, now I know what it’s probably going to be, and probably how much time there is. So you can clean up some of the mess you’ve made and tie up some of the loose ends.”

“I am no more afraid of dying than I am of, I don’t know, drinking this coffee,” she continues, pointing to her mug. (It’s actually filled with Postum since she’s had to give up caffeine. She remains, thankful, though, that she can still drink a nightly whiskey. “Jack Daniels, of course!” she says, shocked at the suggestion that a Tennessee native would drink anything else.)

— Spiritual writer Phyllis Tickle (“the world’s worst, most devout evangelical Episcopalian”) on her end times

Phyllis Tickle is a southern born and bred, mother of seven and a doyenne of religion writers.  She is now 81, and a widow living on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. The land where her cows once roamed, stray dogs she has adopted and some family surround her. She is being treated for Stage IV cancer.( Religion News Service photo by )Karen Pulfer Focht

Phyllis Tickle is a southern born and bred, mother of seven and a doyenne of religion writers. She is now 81, and a widow living on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. The land where her cows once roamed, stray dogs she has adopted and some family surround her. She is being treated for Stage IV cancer.( Religion News Service photo by )Karen Pulfer Focht

The list of Great American Christian and Spiritual Writers has become a long one indeed in recent decades–there’s Anne Lamott (the most popular ever, and for good reason), Kathleen Norris, Karen Armstrong, Annie Dillard and more, like the young and talented and up-and-rising and fearless Rachel Held Evans.

And then there’s Phyllis Tickle, who ranks right up there with the best of the best.

Here’s an excerpt from a Religion News Service report on her eminent death:

    LUCY, Tenn. (RNS) Over the past generation, no one has written more deeply and spoken more widely about the contours of American faith and spirituality than Phyllis Tickle.

    And now, at 81, she’s working on her final chapter: her own.

    On Jan. 2, the very day her husband, Sam, succumbed to a long and debilitating illness, Tickle found herself flat on her back with a high fever, “as sick as I’ve ever been” and racked by “the cough from hell.”

    The fever eventually subsided, but the cough wouldn’t let go. When she finally visited the doctor last month, the diagnosis was quick, and grim: Stage IV lung cancer that had already spread to her spine. The doctors told her she has four months to live, maybe six.

    “And then they added: ‘But you’re very healthy so it may take longer.’ Which I just loved!” she says with her characteristic sharp laugh.

    Indeed, that’s the kind of irony that delights Tickle, even in sober moments like this, and it embodies the sort of dry humor and frank approach that leaven even her most poignant, personal reflections. It’s also central to the distinctive style, delivered in a rich Southern register, that has won her innumerable fans and friends who will be hard-hit by the news of her illness.

And now click here if you want to know more about this woman, God bless her, of amazing grace.

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No offense to the Beatles and the hippy-dippy peace-and-love movement they led in the sixties*, but Jesus was no counter-cultural, anti-establishment hippy-dippy who wore “love beads” and led his followers around to the tune of “All ya need is love!”

But he was hippy-ish, if you will, in the sense of being counter-cultural and anti-establishment to the core.

Jesus lived in the world, but was not of the world and all the world’s man-made “systems.”

Him, disrupting the “system.”

He lived contrary to all the powers-that-be — that is, the “system(s)” that the holders of power or money eternally navigate and manipulate to their gain, at the loss of the others.

As a result of his counter-cultural, anti-establishment ways, Jesus was persecuted and condemned to a humiliating death on a “tree,” in systems perpetrated by powers both religious and Roman. (See Deuteronomy 21: 22-23.)

The many scandalous “systems” of the world dehumanize all of human life and render life that runs contrary to God’s will.

The political system dehumanizes and desensitizes us all.

The military system dehumanizes and desensitizes us.

The educational systems (all too often) dehumanize and desensitize. (Think about how even “teaching to the test” takes out the humanizing value and benefits of learning.)

The justice system (all too often) dehumanizes and desensitizes us.

The financial system (especially the Big Business, Big Banks, Big Everything systems that value profits over human lives and animals, too) . . . ditto.

The media/entertainment/cultural systems definitely dehumanize and desensitize us . . . (Build em up! tear em down!).

And of course, the many rigid, and all-too-often dogmatic religious system(s) . . . aren’t as pure as the driven snow by any means.

The church and the many religions can systematically dehumanize and desensitize us to the plight of the poor and marginalized and all powerless people among us, and never mind that this runs contrary to God’s will for “the life more abundant,” for mercy, for peace on earth and good will to all, that our “joy may be complete.” (See John 17: 11-19 here)

So the thoughts for the day, Christians, might be:

Do I live contrary to today’s life-diminishing or life-destroying systems, or do I adapt my faith to the “system” (i.e. “Kingdom”) that Jesus ushered in?”

How can I contribute to the “good system” of the Kingdom of Heaven of which Jesus gave us a foretaste on Earth in ways that will constructively displace and replace systems that tear down rather than lift up lives?”

How complete is my joy in the life-giving, life-nurturing love and grace of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior?

Mind you, I love me some Beatles and Beatles music, including the song “All You Need is Love.”

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I have a friend and neighbor named “Hill” who is one of the world’s genuinely nice guys. In addition to being an artisan, which I didn’t know until an encounter I’ll tell you about, Hill is a land scout who gets a commission helping real estate agents and other people sell properties.

You should know that “Hill” is his nickname and that nine out of 10 men in Belize get tagged with nicknames early in life and the names stick like glue. I know a young man in town whose name is “Dry,” and I once met an elderly gent in northern Belize whose goes by the name (no kidding) “Wet.”

Hill (I forget his real name) is 63. I tease him about being a kid since I’ve got two years on him in age. But Hill can run circles around me; he must pump his bike 50 miles a day around these steep hills of San Ignacio and Santa Elena.

Remember when you were a child and could ride your bike at about 50 miles per hour all day long and never get tired or winded or break out in a sweat? Kids make bike riding look thoroughly effortless.

My friend Hill, on the other hand, looks like he’s pumping around in slow motion on his old-fashioned bike that, like my bike, has two speeds–the right leg and left leg.

But I marvel at how effortlessly “Hill” can get a quarter-way up a killer hill before he has to dismount and effortlessly walk the bike up to the top, never gasping for air and never breaking a sweat in this hot-tropic town.

My sweet friend “Hill” learned the art of wood carving watching a cellmate in prison way back in his rebel days.

I can pump about 10 yards up one of these hills before I have to dismount and shake the sweat off and suck up about five minutes’ worth of oxygen–and I always ride after 5 or 6 when the sun is fading and the merciful evening breeze is kicking in.

So anyway . . . the other day I’m riding up a hill in the air-conditioned comfort of my pickup truck and who’s on the top of the hill but “Hill,” who’s standing in front of a nearly completed semi-mansion of a house being built by a prominent Belizean family.

I parked the truck and asked Hill what he was doing and it turned out he was marveling at the beauty of the big house on the hill–and it’s going to be a beauty, with a great, hilltop view of the twin towns below.

So we chatted a while and then Hill said he’d also come up to deliver something he made for the owner of the house and was waiting for him. With that, he pulled out a gorgeous, hand-carved likeness of a Mayan king from a soft bag that he handed over to me as if it were the crown jewels and said, “You like it, Paul?”

Now, I ask you, dear reader, what’s not to like about something as beautifully crafted as the Mayan figure you see in the pictures here.

I never knew that Hill, when he’s not pumping his bike in Zen-like motion around the twin towns, puts in hours carving out mahogany-wood beauties like this.

Impressive detail

Impressive detail

I told him that I really admire people who have the talent to take a piece of something like a chunk of a mahogany tree and carve it into a wonder to behold.

“I wish I could do this,” I told him. “How you’d learn to carve like this?”

“Well I’ll tell you the truth, Paul–I was in prison when I was young,” he said. “I learned it from a cell mate. I learned to do it by watching him do it.”

Of course, out of my compulsive need to know everybody’s story, I had to pump Hill for more and he said:

“I was so stupid when I was young, Paul. I went to jail because I got caught with ‘mary-juana’ in my possession. I wasn’t smoking it and didn’t sell it but I had a lot of it. Then I tried to skip out of jail and that got me into more problems. I was in prison almost two years. I was so stupid because I was so young and you just don’t know anything when you’re young. You think you know everything and you don’t know anything.

“I was in a prison that’s not even open anymore. It wasn’t all that bad. I mean, it was prison and it was bad, but we had some freedom to walk around and do stuff and it was kind of a pretty place with lots of fruit trees down in Stann Creek (one of Belize’s seven “districts,” similar to U.S. states). It wasn’t like Hattieville (Belize’s only drab, hot-oven of a prison compound now) where they lock up everybody now.

“I wish I had never been so stupid, but that’s how young people learn.”

So that’s my young buddy Hill’s story in a nutshell. He’s turned out to be a pretty good kid and a skilled wood sculptor in spite of some youthful indiscretions.

I, on the other hand, was young and stoopid once (and by the grace of God never landed in prison) and can’t even carve a turkey.

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