And Another Thing…

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Two quick hits

I call it Semi-Poetic Justice

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On a much more serious note, John Dobbs reflects on the two year anniversary of Katrina.

Have a good day.

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Filed under: Quick Hits

My new favorite quote

I became interested in art therapy when during one of my meditations, I had a vision of an elephant, and the elephant invited me to come inside it, and while I was there I felt safe and warm.” 

A woman in her mid 40s said this tonight in one of my classes at [school]. With a straight face. I could not make this up.  I don’t know what it means, and I don’t really want to know.  I love being back in school.

Filed under: School

Update on Bennett

Bennett, the newborn that I requested prayers for in my last post, is still in Natal ICU. His family has a webpage where they are posting regular updates. He is a little better but not out of the woods yet. For more information, click here.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Urgent

Travis and Kelly, a couple at the church I attend, just had their first child, Bennett. Unfortunately, Bennett is experiencing some serious health problems. Those of you who pray, please lift this family up in their time of need. I cannot imagine having the joy of a new child undermined by the risk of losing him.  For more information (including a “prayer pager” number so that you can let them know that they are being prayed for) follow this link

Filed under: Uncategorized

John Hiatt & Shawn Colvin at Wolf Trap 8/16/07

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            Given that this is my second concert review in a month, both of my regular readers may think that all Christine and I do in our spare time is attend shows at Wolf Trap. Rest assured that this is not the case, the two main reasons being that we cannot afford it and my crowd threshold is way too low to attend concerts anywhere on a regular basis.

            Regardless, this show was a treat.  I have always enjoyed Shawn Colvin and even got to see her at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis more than 10 years ago. On the other hand, I have been a huge John Hiatt fan since high school and I saw him at the Fortune/Williams Music Festival in Staunton, VA two years ago.  They are touring together for the first time this summer, performing acoustic sets, and they make a good joint ticket.

            Colvin opened the show, sitting on a stool and churning out an hour of moody folk-influenced tunes covering her entire catalogue, from 1991’s Steady On to 2006’s These Four Walls.  Colvin’s greatest strengths are her observant lyrics and her haunting voice, which alternates between heartbreaking pleas and sardonic commentary.  Her lyrics lean towards darker stuff such as heartache, loneliness, and disappointment; and she even joked about these tendencies during the show.  Hiatt joined her onstage for the encore.

            Hiatt took the stage about 30 minutes after the end of Colvin’s show and opened with the rousing “Cry Love.”  He engaged the crowd from the get-go, joking and introducing some of the songs with funny (and sometime strange) anecdotes.  As Thursday night happened to be the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, Hiatt introduced the Elvis-obsessed song “Tennessee Plates” with a story about where he was and what he was doing when he heard about Presley’s death.  This song also featured some impressive fretwork; one of the advantages of seeing Hiatt live is that he demonstrates his considerable proficiency with the guitar far moreso than on his records.  His set included many of his standards, including “Memphis in the Meantime,” “Trudy and Dave” (by request), “Feels Like Rain,” “Drive South,” “Your Dad Did,” and “Crossing Muddy Waters.”  He road-tested two songs off of his next album: “How ‘bout Them Dogs” and “Go Home With You.” For the encore, he traded his guitar in for the copiously covered “Have A Little Faith in Me,” and then was joined by Shawn Colvin for “You Must Go” and closed out the night with his breakthrough hit “Slow Turning.”

            Hiatt’s voice is a gravelly, smoky alto; he can growl and howl with the best of them.  By the end of the show, I was exhilarated and worn-out, which I guess is all that one can ask.  It was another evening well-spent.

Filed under: Music

Small People Fight Small Battles

          This story caught my attention as an example of believers getting it all wrong all over again.  I am no fan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), who remind me of resident assistants or hall monitors who take self-aggrandizing joy in catching others in infractions great and small and tattling on them. However, I do believe that the separation of church and state is very much a blessing to believers as it protects the church just as much as it protects the state. It is the separation of church and state that prevents the government from regulating what is taught in churches and from taxing churches. 

          Drake broke the law, period. That law may or may not be reasonable, but it does not provoke suffering and believers are not required to betray their faith and conscience in order to comply with it. Believers are expected to obey the law of the land unless doing so means disobeying God (Exodus 1:15-22, Daniel 3, Daniel 6, Matthew 12:1-13, Acts 4:19).  Drake’s response of calling for imprecatory prayer seems excessive; the equivalent of dropping a bomb on a bank that is being robbed.  People frequently cite examples of David making imprecatory prayers in the Psalms, but the people concerned in those prayers were oppressive, sadistic, and bloodthirsty; their crimes against the innocent were legendary.  Regardless of how annoying one may find AUSCS, they hardly qualify as a threat to believers or to the spreading of the gospel.  What does endorsement of political candidates have to do with acts of charity and mercy, or the spreading of the gospel? 

          As in every other facet of our lives, we need to select our battles, and when one thinks about how we are surrounded by the poor, the damaged, our oppressed brothers and sisters around the world, and the thousands who die every day without hearing the gospel, the use of church stationary hardly seems to be “the good fight of faith.”  I can think of 19 Korean Christians in Afghanistan who probably wouldn’t think so. What do you think, gentle readers?

Filed under: Faith and Religion, Politics

“The Tin Roof Blowdown” by James Lee Burke

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            James Lee Burke’s latest novel The Tin Roof Blowdown is the 16th entry in a series about Dave Robicheaux, chief detective in the sheriff’s department in New Iberia, La.  I discovered Burke in college, reading the first Robicheaux book, Neon Rain, on the recommendation of a friend and have read everything he has published since; while some books are better than others, there is not a dud in the bunch.  And I think that this newest one may be the best yet.

            This is a crime series of course, and each novel has a compelling mystery driving the plot.  However, there are many other pleasures in each book, especially for long-time readers.  Burke excels at descriptions of nature and place, and the environment of southern Louisiana provides plenty of material for him.  I have never been there, but after reading Burke for so long I can imagine the sights, smells, sounds, plant life, and wildlife with a clarity that makes me feel like I make annual visits.  Burke’s depiction of New Orleans is similarly powerful; he writes with a deep and abiding love for the city but manages to maintain a clear eye to its crime, brutality, and corruption.  The characters Burke creates are as varied and real as those of any other writer today, and with the exception of the occasional criminal psychotic, each is portrayed with sympathy and surprising psychological insight.

            Burke rewards long-time readers by never repeating himself, even with a recurring set of characters.  Dave, his colleagues, his friends, and his family all seem fresh in each book because Burke has allowed them to grow and change in a realistic fashion over time.  Unlike in many mystery series, where the characters seem stuck in a time warp that allows them to stay the same age, at the same place in life, and surrounded by the same people, the experiences of these characters stay with them, and nobody escapes the consequences of their actions.

            Each novel is narrated in the first-person by Robicheaux, and he often serves as Burke’s mouthpiece.  Never one to see the world in black and white, Robicheaux will bust criminals because he has to, but he also understands the environments that help to produce them.  Like his creator, he is a recovering alcoholic and strives at length to work the 12 steps and fend off a relapse.  Again like Burke, he is a devout Catholic struggling with his faith and searching desperately for things that affirm the existence of the God he wants to believe in while doing a job and dealing with people that could easily burn his faith down if he lets them.  Far from perfect but constantly trying, Robicheaux works hard at living up to his responsibilities as a cop, husband, father, and friend.

            Given that Burke is a resident of southern Louisiana, all of his fans expected him to write a Robicheaux story about the hurricanes that devastated southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in 2005, and The Tin Roof Blowdown is that book.  At the beginning of the novel, when the entire infrastructure of New Orleans falls apart, law enforcement and rescue personnel are called in from surrounding parishes to provide aid. Robicheaux goes along partly because it is his job but also partly to check up on his friends who still live in the city.  In the early chapters, as Robicheaux surveys the damage, we get some of the strongest (and most disturbing) writing of the entire series:

 “For those who do not like to brood upon the possibility of simian ancestry in the human gene pool or who genuinely believe that societal virtue grows from a collective impulse in the human breast, the events of the next few days would offer their sensibilities poor comfort.” 

“It wasn’t the miles of buildings stripped of their shingles and their windows caved in or the streets awash with floating trash or the live oaks that had been punched through people’s roofs. It was the literal powerlessness of the city that was overwhelming.  The electric grid had been destroyed and the water pressure had died in every faucet in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes.  The pumps that should have forced water out of the storm sewers were themselves flooded and totally useless.  Gas mains burned underwater or sometimes burst flaming from the earth…The entire city, within one night, had been reduced to the technological level of the Middle Ages.” 

“The sun was merciless in the sky, the humidity like lines of ants crawling inside your clothes.  The linear structure of a neighborhood could be recognized only by the green smudge of yard trees that cut the waterline and row upon row of rooftops dotted with people who perched on sloped shingles that scalded their hands.” 

“They drowned in attics and on the second floor of their houses.  They drowned along the edges of Highway 23…They drowned in retirement homes and in trees and on car tops while they waved frantically at helicopters flying by overhead.  They died in hospitals and nursing homes of dehydration and heat exhaustion…” 

            Dark stuff, certainly.  However, as he always does, Burke also gives accounts of heroism and resilience, celebrating the best in people during the worst of times.  Robicheaux manages to find enough decency around him to give him hope for the human condition.  In the wake of the hurricanes Robicheaux becomes swept up in a complex murder investigation that involves two of his best friends, several corrupt local businessmen, killers for hire, and an innocent long-suffering family.  In addition to the satisfaction of a great mystery, the reader will also get a moving story and a sweeping examination of the effects of a disaster on people and communities.

            New readers could start with any book in the series, but for maximum enjoyment I strongly recommend starting at the beginning with Neon Rain.  If you take this recommendation, I envy you; the first reading of a great book (or series of books) is always a treat.

Filed under: Books

Verbal Moratoriums

On my old blog one of the most popular posts I ever wrote was on moratoriums I would like to see.  In that spirit, I have compiled a list of words and phrases that I think we hear or read a little too often.  Of course, readers are invited to add their own if they wish.

·         “We’re pregnant.” No, she’s pregnant, and you’re just along for the ride buddy.

·        “But my situation is different.” Difficulty in your marriage does not justify adultery, financial problems don’t justify stealing, and having a bad day doesn’t justify taking it out on every person you encounter.

·        “I know it’s terrible but…”  If you know it’s terrible, then don’t say/do/act like it.

·        “Totally” I totally don’t need to elaborate on this, do I?

·        “Liberal” and “Conservative” Especially in the context of religion. These two terms have been so abused that they are almost completely devoid of meaning.  The truth is that everyone is somebody’s idea of a liberal and everyone is somebody’s idea of a conservative.

·        “Hitler was a Christian/Atheist” These are common misperceptions that people love to sling around, especially in on-line discussions of religion, to prove their point: either that “Christianity is bad!” or “All atheists are bad!”  The truth is that Hitler tended to agree with whoever his target audience was on the subject of religion.  See this article at “The Straight Dope.”

·        “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  This is not the catch-all response to adversity that some people think it is.

·        “Awesome!” Man walking on the moon is awesome. Cures for fatal diseases are awesome.  Your car being ready on time after an oil change, while fortunate and convenient, is not awesome.

·        “Universal health care is socialist!”  If this is true, then public schools, public libraries, public roads, and police and fire departments are socialist as well.

·        The “disadvantaged” excuse No, life is not fair and we don’t all start out on a level playing field, but how do these facts justify murder or rape?

·        “I don’t like to lose.”  Oh, so you’re that guy.  Giving your best and beyond is competitive; pouting, losing your temper, and blaming everyone else is poor sportsmanship.

Now how about you, gentle readers?

Filed under: Rants

Don’t ask me why, this is just how it is

A recent post by John Dobbs on the arbitrary rules that churches enforce got me thinking about some of the imposed, man-made, and mostly unwritten standards and opinions that I have encountered in my experience.  Most ideas and opinions are harmless until we act as though they are fact and attempt to enforce them as such.  I have listed below some of the more odious ideas and unspoken-yet-commonly-held beliefs that I run into over and over again. Some of these are adhered to by individuals, some by entire congregations, and some by Christian colleges. Note to readers: I am openly soliciting any and all feedback on the extra-biblical traditions and viewpoints that you may have encountered, from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Many of these items will reflect the religious tradition that I grew up in (churches of Christ), but comments on any tradition are welcome.

  • “Our God He is Alive” must be sung while standing.
  • “Passing the plate” is a leadership role.
  • “Command, example, and necessary inference” is a divinely-inspired method for interpreting and applying scripture.
  • It is alright to be vicious and thoughtless when “correcting” a brother who is “wrong.”
  • Believers should not listen to any music other than church music or contemporary Christian music.
  • Contemporary Christian music is wrong.
  • The Grace Game: “God’s grace extends far enough to cover me but not you.”
  • God will forgive overt sinners but not sincere believers who make an honest mistake.
  • Dancing is a sin unless it is for a Christian college’s spring recruitment extravaganza.
  • Even though church buildings are never mentioned in the New Testament, what we do with them is still important enough for congregations to divide over it.
  • Sending your children to public school (or a state college) guarantees that they will eventually lose their faith.
  • Every chain e-mail that I receive about various churches, prominent preachers, or political candidates that I do not like must be true and it is my duty to forward it.
  • Everything Jesus taught about money and how we treat others was really just a suggestion.
  • Emotional manipulation of teenagers and children at summer camp, retreats, and youth rallies is okay if it “gets them in the water.”
  • If it makes me uncomfortable, it must be wrong.
  • The sin that you struggle with is worse than the sin that I struggle with.

Filed under: Faith and Religion

Getting it right

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”                           – Micah 6:8 (NIV)

This story really touched me, I guess because it shows believers demonstrating mercy and compassion in a very tangible way.  Helping to facilitate opportunities for people in trouble with the law to make it right without fear seems so…oh, I don’t know, biblical?

I think that this is a perfect example of Christian social action.  No lobbying or protesting, no forming political action committees, just using our available resources (such as buildings) to promote peace and safety, one life at a time.  Fugitive Safe Surrender is a government program, but it seems significant to me that the turnout was so good at church buildings.  For the rest of their lives, the fugitives who surrendered themselves will think of church buildings as a place of safety and sanctuary.  Isn’t that what we want?

Filed under: Faith and Religion

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