30.6.09

Joyce Meyer's Migraine


Chris Coleman is an innocent man, at least until a jury decides otherwise. But it's not looking good for him. The 32-year old has been arrested in the triple-slaying of his wife and two sons. Prosecutors say the evidence against Coleman is overwhelming.

Popular TV Evangelist Joyce Meyer is likely combating a mega-migraine as a result.

Coleman worked on Meyer's security staff. Meyer is probably longing for the day when her worst nightmare was an investigation by Senator Grassley into financial misconduct. The Better Business Bureau maintains that Meyer's ministry violates the standard for Charitable Accountability.

Not that Meyer is in any way responsible for the deaths of 31-year-old Sheri Coleman or her sons Garrett, 11, and Gavin, 9.

Well not in any major way, except, it appears that her policy prohibiting any staff members from being divorced may have given Coleman the impetus he was looking for, if he did indeed strangle his wife and two boy as charged. Police Chief Joe Edwards said Joyce Meyers confirmed no employee can be divorced.

Coleman did, in fact, resign the week before his arrest after an internal investigation by the ministry found that he failed to follow ministry policy. News reports didn't identify the nature of the policy he failed to follow but a good guess might be that it had something to do with infidelity.

Seems Coleman had been carrying on with one of Sheri Coleman's closest gal pals, Tara Lintz, of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Chris Coleman is an innocent man -- even he says so. But the evidence against him, well, that's another matter.

There's this matter of the affair.

And the threatening notes, at least one of which was sent from his work laptop at Joyce Meyer Ministries. Notes designed to make it look like somebody was upset at Sheri Coleman for all the work she did on behalf of Meyer Ministries:

“(Expletive)! Deny your God publicly or else! No more opportunities. Time is running out for you and your family.”

That threat, dated Jan. 1, referred to someone traveling to Asia, but doesn’t refer to anyone by name. Sheri Coleman participated in missionary trips to southeast Asia, including Cambodia. “Have a good time in India (expletive)!”

The second letter, again to Sheri Coleman, was dated April 27, 2009:
“I am giving you the last warning! You have not listened to me and you have not changed your ways. I have warned you to stop traveling and stop carrying on with this fake religious life of stealing people’s money. "

The note also referred to some unnamed woman. Possibly Meyer?

"You think you are so special to do what you do protecting or think you are protecting her. She is a b*tch and not worth doing it. Stop today or else. I know your schedule. … This is my last warning. Your worst nightmare is about to happen!”

Coleman had reportedly told his girlfriend that he was going to serve Sheri with divorce papers on the same day her body and that of her sons were found dead in their beds. Obscene messages were spray-painted in red throughout the house.

Good thing Meyer doesn't implement such a policy about divorce when it comes to accepting donations to her ministry, heh? Given this country's divorce rate, Meyer would stand to lose an estimated half of her annual $100 million income.

The Baddest Ass Oregonian of All

This morning, I stumbled across an obituary for an Oregonian in a Deadspin comment. This guy is Sully Sullenberger times a million.

Reusser flew 253 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and was shot down in all three, five times in all.
Think about that: this guy plummeted from the sky inside a ton of metal five times.

In 1945, while based in Okinawa, he stripped down his F4U-4 Corsair fighter and intercepted a Japanese observation plane at a high altidude. When his guns froze, he flew his fighter into the observation plane, hacking off its tail with his propeller.
I like that the article says "altidude". Maybe that was his nickname?

Then, in the end, in true pastor's kid fashion, Kenneth L. Reusser even thumbed his nose at the words of Jesus. He died of natural causes at the age of 89.

I am going to be honored to be buried in the same cemetery as this guy some day.

29.6.09

Priorities

I was in Portland this weekend, living it up. I missed this photo on Deadspin. It's just too funny not to mention.

I hate being a tourist in my hometown.

Extreme Home Make Over Update

I mentioned a few posts ago about how my church has been involved with ABC's Extreme Home Makeover's project in Erie. It's amazing how much changes in a few days. Just before I went on vacation I learned a team from my church attended a meeting to discuss the side project. I've never watched an episode of the show, but I was informed that there's generally an overflow of volunteers that just can't work on the house. Our church was chosen to organize the 750 extra volunteers and to get them working on the entire neighborhood.

Here are some pictures that a friend of mine took of the work site and the surrounding neighborhood.

28.6.09

Mediations: Isaiah 4

The family and I just returned from a quick tour of Amy's side of the family in Michigan. We had a great time but logged in too many highway miles, at too many ribs, and consumed a little too much coffee on the way back to Pennsylvania to stay awake. I remembered that this was my week to supply the meditation here at Burnside and wondered what to post on limited time. I have a weekly ritual that I've mantained most years since I was in high school. I meet with friend each week for coffee. Each week we read the same book of the Bible and come together to discuss what we've learned.

It was time for Isaiah-- which means that we're giving ourselves a few extra weeks to read that massive book and some commentaries so we have a chance of keeping up. I recently read Isaiah 4, a brief apocalpyic chapter that contains a prophesy about the siege of Jerusalem and the future work of the Messiah. I remembered reading that chapter about the time that my son Nathan was born ten-years ago. I recall struggling with wild swing of emotions that occurred in just four verses. The brutality in verse one offended my paternal instincts. My son was entering a world capable of unspeakable evils and a God who didn't necessarily stop them from occuring.

I wrestled with the themes of judgment, discipline, and redemption found in the chapter and ended up writing my son a lullaby that Amy and I performed at church. Amy sang and I played the piano. Here's Isaiah 4 and then my response to it...

Isaiah 4 (New International Version)

Isaiah 4

1 In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, "We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!"

The Branch of the Lord
2 In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit a]">[a] of judgment and a spirit b]">[b] of fire. 5 Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. 6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.


On that Day

On that day
You’ll pick us up and wash away our guilt
You’ll scrub away the mud we wore while playing in our sins
And in the Father’s basin the children are clean again

On that day
You’ll quilt clouds to cover us at dawn
And weave fire for a blanket at night
You will wrap us in your presence and tuck us into light

On that day
You’ll be shelter from the heat of sun and refuge from the storm
And even though the winds may blow
The children all sweetly sleep

Sorry for the leftovers. I promise I'll have something fresh next time.

Remember Mercy

CS Lewis prayed that God would give him an anonymous death, and he got it. Lewis died the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I half wondered if Farrah Fawcett had wished for the same, because she certainly got it. Only hours after she succumbed to cancer, Michael Jackson was dead.

I was in Yosemite the day Elvis died. It was the annual family vacation, and I was stuck at Camp Curry eating an ice cream cone while my older brothers scaled half dome. I just remember a field, an ice cream cone, and my father returning with the Modesto Bee.

I was taking a biology final the day John Lennon was shot. I flipped on the radio on the way home and heard "Imagine there's no heaven," and turned off the song half way through. My father told me when I got home. But I knew it before he even finished the sentence.

This past Thursday I was sitting in the parking lot of Target, listening to my voice messages. I gasped when I heard about Jackson, and a bible verse slipped out of my mouth before I could think.

I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. Sure, “ABC 123” is fun for a dance party. But when Michael hit big in the 1980s, I was in film school. It was hip to be cynical and listen to Elvis Costello and the Clash. But there was one jaded guy in my film group who gushed over Thriller. I had to admit he was right. Even if it wasn’t my kind of music, it was great music.

Five days before Michael Jackson’s death I was staring at a photo of him online: the closeup of his chalk skin, the permanent eyeliner and brows, the girl hair, and the nose taped onto his face. “This won’t end well,” I said to myself. Even Michael thought so, he told then-wife Lisa Marie Presley that he feared he’d end up like her father. Looks like he did. Prescription drugs are suspected.

People were all over facebook and twitter with an outpouring of well wishes, grief, and tribute; posting their favorite Michael Jackson songs or the results of their “Which Michael Jackson song are you?” I read only one negative comment: “Wait a minute guys,” a friend chimed in. “The guy was a pedophile.”

Well, an acquitted pedophile.

Looking at a photo gallery of Michael through the years is like watching individual still frames from the Zapruder film. You just beg for them not to move forward. Don’t drive in a convertible, Mr. Kennedy. Don’t change your nose, Michael. And please don’t invite the boys over.

Who knows how Michael fragmented into a man/child horror show. Maybe because he never had a childhood, never had a moment of anonymity. He went from an abusive, perfectionist father to a merciless, perfectionist industry where failure is unacceptable. Who could really grow up in those conditions and be normal? And aren't we, the public, somewhat responsible for his fame and fragmentation? As Paul Simon sang, "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts."

I have watched my well-balanced, adult friends get famous, and they have a hard time with it. Imagine how much more difficult for someone like Michael Jackson. Yes he probably was a pedophile, and a victim, and a tortured soul. A terrific musician, a sad broken psyche. I wondered if in the afterlife, we are automatically healed from our earthly wounds, or if it's a process. If I rule out redemption even for pedophiles, I've ruled it out for myself. And to that, can only think of the verse that tumbled from my lips the moment I heard. “Oh Lord, in wrath: remember mercy.”

27.6.09

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind"

Yes, we’re talking about Michael Jackson. The world is talking about Michael Jackson.

I want to know how you and those around you have paid homage to this man’s death. If you didn’t, that’s okay, you might think about it and try. I will start off by telling you two drastically different tribute experiences of my own. One was good and the other was not so good.

Tribute #1: After dinner a few friends and I went to what is called “Last-Thursday” on Alberta street. It’s a tradition where they block off about 10 blocks on the last-Thursday of every month (read more about it here). I’ll sum it up by saying that it is a grand convergence of the most bastion of hipsters. I don’t know how I got there but I was welcome nonetheless. All hipster crowds are, if nothing else, friendly. But I’m certain that it’s considered a foreign country to most. I think Sodom and Gomorrah would shake it’s indulgent little finger at most of what I saw last night. So I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the picture.

I was walking around when I saw a large group of all shapes, sizes and hair-colors smiling and bouncing to an old and familiar beat. I gravitated over and when I did I saw a speaker in the middle blaring out a Jackson favorite, “Thriller!” I crossed myself and shamelessly joined in the ritual. And I loved every minute of it. Whispering sentiments like, "We love you Michael" and "You're the best!"

Tribute #2: Well, tribute #2 is not really a tribute at all, it is more of an experience with a crumudgeonous soul's take on the untimely death of Michael Jackson.

I was working at my lousy job just north of town. I work at a little market called J’s, it is basically a gas station without the gas. I was reading a book when a rougher looking gentleman approached the counter carrying two cheap 24oz beers in hand and asked me for some Pall Mall full flavored cigarettes. Now this guy's a keeper. He looked over his shoulder at the news-stand headline and said, “At least we got one!”

I’m innocent and curious so I asked, “One of what?”

A lewd reply followed, “One less child-molester in the world.” I scoffed, shook my head and bagged his beer. I saw that he needed a drink more than he needed a response. I whispered, under my breath, "go smoke a cigarrette you old bastard."

I apologize for his crassness and mine.

You’ve heard my two Michael Jackson stories . . . What are yours? In the mean time I'll be listening to "Billie Jean" on repeat.

26.6.09

Send in the Clowns

"I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina," he said.  

That sentence was a part of the public confession from the lips of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, or what puer aeternus George Stephanopoulos called "his performance."  I'm guessing you saw it, heard it, read about it, or at least you have now.

"What cannot be said will get wept." - Jim Harrison

We all react differently to revelations such as this.  But I believe with all I am that our response, as least the one by the church on earth, the body of Christ, the visible representation of Jesus Jesus-self, is to be tears.  As the good book says, "Weep with those who weep."

Yes, John, but isn't he getting what he deserves?  Ah, justice - the current golden calf for many in the Lord's army, yes sir.  We've castrated Micah 6.8.  We must be careful little hands what we cut for there is something in that verse which we christians or christ-followers or little christs or whatever we want to call ourselves are called to love...and that something is mercy. Only by loving mercy can justice worth a God's blood be done to the uttermost.

Yes, John, but what if his tears were those of a crocodile?  I'm not a tearologist nor do I play one on tv, so I really cannot say.  I will roll the dice and say they were the tears of a clown; a man, flesh and blood like thee and me, whose public persona covered a private circus of broken vows.  If we cannot weep for the clown, and maybe we can't, then let us weep for his wife and children, his staff, the people who elected him, his parents, the lady in Argentina...hell, let us weep even for ourselves for we too often paint on a smile and juggle our lives.  And sooner or later, we'll all drop the ball.

Merci

24.6.09

Hit the Road, Scrubby!

Open my closet and you will see blouses and t-shirts with yellowed armpits. I wear deodorant, I promise. Yes, antiperspirant even. But Secret and Dove and Lady Speedstick have all betrayed my sweaty little secret. I’ve switched to a casual combination of baby powder and baking soda. It’s not liquid or gel or any other filmy concoction. (Why would you want to put more moisture in there anyway?) Plus, it doesn’t have aluminum or talc powder or any other metal compound I could try to force through my skin. Minneapolis is in the upper 90s today, and of course I’m still sweating a bit, but I don’t smell a thing.
I also filled an old stationary box with baking soda and put it in my closet to soak up those campfire memories that live in most of my sweatshirts. I brush my teeth a couple times a week with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. I figure it counters the browning effect of my daily cup of coffee. I sprinkle it over my carpet and wait as long as I can before I vacuum. I rent a room, and God knows what has passed along the surface of those fibers!
My grandma never told me about this gem of a cleanser. I’ve gone baking soda crazy. It’s so simple, and I prefer buying a couple boxes of baking soda to a couple bottles of 409, Scrubbing Bubbles, Clorox, toothpaste, and carpet deodorizer. Join me—you won’t regret it.

On Cobbling Together a Book Proposal

So last night I was working on a book proposal to send off to an editor before I take off on vacation with the wife and kiddos. I searched through my email accounts looking for the endorsements I collected from various authors. Publishers seems to like that.

I found an email from a certain Don. I did some heavy editing, the kind that you see when you watch movie trailers. I think I have knock out blurb.


Larry,


Thanks for inviting me to endorse your book... It really sounds fascinating, and certainly worth reading. I have a policy, though, in that I don't endorse books any longer. I was just having to read too many books, and don't like endorsing books I haven't read. I make occasional exceptions, but not that many. Please don't take it personally, it just helpsed my life stay a bit more organized and on track.

But thanks again for the request. And for understanding.

Have a great new year!

Don



I didn't include that email in the proposal. I have ethics. But I did co-author a Million Miles in a Thousand Years according to this link. And hells yeah, this is going in the proposal.


23.6.09

Heaven's Campus

My sweet friend Connie died Saturday. I've known Connie longer than either of us have known our husbands. Connie was the first friend I made after relocating to Oregon from Georgia. We met at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

It was an odd church, tucked up on the hillside overlooking the Beaverton/Hillsdale Highway. I don't even know how it was I first came to attend that church. I probably looked it up in the Yellow Pages. (Ask a history teacher, they can explain the reference.) Knowing me the way I do, I probably turned to the "Church" section and looked until I found the only Southern Baptist Church in the Greater Portland region.

Mrs. Geri Moore introduced us. Mrs. Moore was our Sunday School teacher. She and Connie both had red hair, though Connie's was natural and Mrs. Moore's came from a bottle. I think she hooked us up because she was hoping some of Connie's mannerly ways would rub off my rough corners.

It never happened. That Connie and I were friends at all befuddled many a person. As her eldest son once said, "I can't believe my mother is friends with you."

I wasn't offended. I completely understood the incongruity of a girl raised up rightly in Portland's West Hills friending a girl who was so clearly trailer trash, but friend me she did.

You don't give it much thought, really, the way a good friendship evolves. One minute you're the bridesmaid at her wedding and lickety-quick just like that you are preparing to speak at her funeral.

I hate death. Hate everything about it. I am no scholar, but I think it’s safe to assume that I know as much about what happens to folks in the hereafter as any other theologian holding forth over a brew. Fact is, at least I have come to these conclusions in a wide-eyed sober-minded fashion. I don’t drink beer.

As a girl who came to grief early in life, I’ve pondered these matters for decades. I read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's book on dying when I was a freshman in college. I identified with the stages of grief. I was stuck in the anger stage for way too long. I longed to be free like the bird in the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” Connie had a roommate at OSU who chose a seagull pattern to decorate her room at the Kappa house. Every time I saw that room I thought of that silly book.

I once interviewed Jerry Sittser, a professor at Whitworth College in Spokane. The good professor lost his mother, his wife and his 4-year old daughter in a head-on collision. I don’t know how to grieve the loss of one person that I love, much less three of them, but I remember he told me, “I lost my past, my present and my future.” He wrote an excellent book on grief titled “A Grace Disguised.”

But the best book I’ve ever read on grief remains “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken. I first read it when Tim and I started dating back in the 1970s (Ask a librarian. They can steer you to the Time/Life Magazines). Tim has long been a C.S. Lewis fan. I started reading Lewis because Tim read Lewis. It was easier than taking up basketball because Tim played it.

It’s a story of a widower’s grief. Sheldon’s wife, Davy, died from a liver problem, the source of which doctors never identified. I intended to name my youngest girl Davy after my father and after the Davy in Vanauken’s book. Now I’m glad I named her after my good friend Connie.

Vanauken says that grief is a form of love — the longing for the dear face, the warm hand.
“It is not the grief that cuts one off from the beloved but the void that is loss.”

Grief, he adds, acts as a shield against the void.

It’s that void, that separation, that causes us such unyielding pain. That’s why we can go years and not weep over the death of a loved one but then something will happen — you get a whiff of Dove soap and it reminds you of standing at the sink in Granny’s house washing your hands and the comfort of knowing she was in the next room, that you could run to her for a hug if you wanted and then you realize Granny is gone and it’s been decades since you’ve been able to bury yourself in her arms -- that’s when the tears rush forth.

God never intended us to live in separation from Him or from each other. God is a Creator, not a Destroyer. Death is not his tool. It is his enemy. It says so, right there in the Word: “The last enemy that shall be conquered is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:26

I don’t know how that could be any clearer.

The victory of the Christian faith is that it offers us the hope of stepping over that chasm into the presence of Christ and our loved ones again someday.

It does not erase the aching or loneliness that we have in the here and now. It simply fills us with an eagerness for what the future holds. A world without separation.

If we could somehow realize that we are living in parallel times, sort of like those talked about in that book “A Wrinkle in Time”, we would understand that while we can’t run to our granny’s bosom any more, that doesn’t mean she isn’t present and maybe longing for the same thing herself.

Vanauken and C.S. Lewis discuss this notion in his book. That perhaps the dead go through their own grieving. I know that will bother those people who think Heaven as one big party-house, but I don’t see how a loving God wouldn’t weep over some of the things he’s privvy to. Of course, God weeps. Of course, there’s crying in heaven. There has to be. What else would mercy be but a recognition of the pain of another and a desire to embrace them in that moment?

I came to the conclusion years ago that going to heaven is like going off to college. Everyone feels fortunate to have gotten in. They realize what a costly admittance price was paid on their behalf. They are so excited for the opportunity to learn new things, make new friends, to study history and science and every other form of knowledge they’ve ever wanted to know about.

But sometimes in the early evening or first thing in the morning, or particularly on their birthdays, they realize how much they miss everyone back at home. So they call their mamas, or their girlfriends, or a favorite teacher, just to talk.

It’s a moment of melancholy. They are thrilled for the new adventure and no way would they pass up the opportunity to be where they are at. Heck no. The adventure is way too great. But still, there’s that separation. That recognition of the distance between them and the people they love.

C.S. Lewis told Vanauken, “It is remarkable (I have experienced it) that sense that the dead person is. And also, I have felt, is active: can sometimes do more for you now than before — as if God gave them, as a kind of birthday present on arrival, some great blessing to the beloved they have left behind.”

It bugs me that so many of my friends have left me for Heaven’s campus. But I get the benefit of having them look out after me. I know they are scheming up some great adventures and learning all sorts of new things that they will undoubtedly share with me.

That doesn’t diminish the ache I have for the adventures we are missing out on in the here and now. But I am eager to see the ways in which they reveal their presence to me in the days, weeks and years to come.

Meanwhile, I’m still stuck here in high school with the rest of you delinquents.

Taking it literally

A colleague of mine introduced me to these videos. It's pretty ridiculous when we take things literally sometimes, isn't it? A story can be changed so much. Enjoy.

Warning - some of these may be a bit PG or PG-13.





A Sound Track for "Room to Shop"



Daniel Amos' Mall All Over the Word

22.6.09

Room to Shop

Americans need room to buy stuff Americans don't need.

I read an article in last week’s New York Times Magazine about the movement to convert vacant retail space into churches, museums, libraries, schools, and other community spaces.

The article’s author, Rob Walker, quoted some statistics from a book called “Retrofitting Suburbia,” by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. The statistics were somehow shocking but not at all surprising. In 1986, the United States had about 15 square feet of retail space per person in shopping centers. By 2003, that figure had increased by a third to 20 square feet. “The next countries on the list are Canada (13 square feet per person) and Australia (6.5 square feet).” The European country with the most retail space per person in shopping centers is Sweden, of course, at 3 square feet per person.

Interesting note: As of October 2008, Portland had the country’s fourth lowest level of retail space in shopping centers per person among major American cities, according to to this report with the ironic title from CoStar Advisors. At 14.43 square feet person (which is still huge), Portland comes in behind New York City (1.66 square feet), Long Island (9.3 square feet), and San Francisco (12.25 square feet). (The picture above is of Portland’s mall, the Lloyd Center.)

CoStar also calculated the total retail space per capita (shopping centers and everything else) for the 59 major markets. Those 59 markets have an estimated average of 43.71 square feet of retail space for every man, woman, and child in the city. Portland has the third lowest retail space per capita at 27.95 square feet, trailing Long Island and Charlotte. The market with the most retail space per capita is Southwest Florida at 74 square feet, followed by Richmod, Winston-Salem, Greenville, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Toledo, San Antonio, Jacksonville, and Birmingham.

This is a post about our priorities.

21.6.09

Childless Fathers




Nobody talks much about the childless fathers of the world. I guess that's why I was so surprised today when Pastor Terry asked them to stand as he prayed for the grief they've endured, for their longing to hold the child, dead and gone.

The women in the lives of these fathers remained seated, quietly wiping away their own tears. I heard the fellow behind me choke back his tears. A father down front cried openly.

For the bulk of my life, I didn't give much thought to childless fathers. Maybe because I didn't really know any. Far as I knew, all the kids in the trailer courts where I grew up in Georgia had fathers. It's just that very few of us had fathers who were present.

Sara had two parents. Her daddy made doughnuts for a living. He's in his 80s now and still making doughnuts. If you stop by the K&S Diner in Kosciusko, Mississippi you can get yourself some.

Pasty Brown's father was home every night for dinner but if he ever spoke a single solitary word, I never heard him. I think he may have been a mute.

I don't know what happened to Joe Kirkland's daddy. Somebody said his mama run his daddy off.

Once Mama heard me tell a girlfriend that I didn't have a daddy. Mama had a conniption fit over it. I guess she thought it made her sound like a slut, having three kids and no man around. That's not at all what I meant by that remark. I only meant that I didn't have a daddy present. Not that I didn't have one at all.

I was tempted to argue the technicalities with Mama. What good, pray tell, is a dead father? At least the absent one could send a check to help out from time to time, show up on birthdays and Christmases and the like. A dead father couldn't do any of that.

I pointed out to my distraught mother that for all practical purposes, I didn't have a father. She instructed me that from that moment forward I was not to tell my friends that I didn't have a father. I was to tell them my father was deceased. I had to ask Mama what deceased meant.

David Sheehan doesn't tell people his daughter is deceased. He tells them that Karly was murdered.

He won't speak the name of the man who did the killing. He only refers to him as "that monster."

I don't blame David one bit. If somebody came along and killed my child the way Karly Sheehan was slain, I'd call them worse names. I'd have to pray every single moment of every single day for God to help me keep from killing somebody myself, had Karly been my child.

My only child.

Fathers Day is hard for David. People don't know what to say to childless fathers. They aren't sure if they should say anything at all. They worry that saying something might bring up a painful subject for David. As if he could ever forget his joyously delightful imp of a girl in a million light years.

Karly loved her daddy with her whole heart. She told him that when she grew up and became a daddy, she wanted to work in an office, too, just like he did.

David tried to correct her. Tried to tell Karly that when she grew up she wouldn't be a daddy, she'd be a mommy.

But Karly burst into tears and cried out that she didn't want to be a mommy. She wanted to be a daddy, like him.

It was the moment, David would later testify, when he knew something was horribly wrong with Karly's relationship with her mother.

David tried to tell that to the state welfare folks, the ones conducting the investigation into child abuse. They suspected him of abusing his daughter. He tried to tell them that there was no way in hell he was abusing his daughter. He loved her more than life itself.

He didn't have the evidence needed to stop the guy, but David knew his ex-wife's boyfriend was responsible. Law enforcement folks should have guessed that from statistics alone. The bulk of child abuse is perpetuated by a mother's boyfriend or live-in.

Far as we know Karly was never sexually abused. Instead she was subjected to ten months of sporadic physical abuse. That day she died -- June 3, 2005 -- doctors found over 60 marks on the three-year old's body. One eye was swollen completely shut. It was ruptured.

If there was an Amber Alert issued for every time a child dies in this country from child abuse, we'd have to issue four alerts a day. Ninety percent of those dead children are ages 3 and under, just like Karly. Some of them come from Christian homes, the way Karly did.

The monster was found guilty of torture but not for first-degree murder. The jury said they weren't sure he meant to kill Karly. Maybe he just intended to rough her up a bit. The way he had been doing since Karly's mother began shacking up with the fellow only weeks after meeting him.

Nobody talks about that either. How some women are just bad mothers. We especially don't talk about these sort of things in the church. It's so damn unpleasant.

The man who killed Karly grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, where 75 percent of the population has a college education. His parents owned a big fine house near the golf course. For a time, he attended Santiam Christian School. He identified himself as a Conservative Christian. He put up lawn signs urging people to vote for George W. Bush. He listened to Rush Limbaugh, religiously. He knew all about how to raise a child up in the way he or she should go, like it talks about in Proverbs.

He also had an addiction to porn, which Karly's mother discovered in the weeks leading into her daughter's brutal death. But that didn't dissuade her from leaving her child in the care of the monster. Not even when doing so caused Karly to break down in hysterics.

Karly's mother was raised in the church, too. Her parents were just as well off as her boyfriend's family. Neither one ever lacked for anything, materially, emotionally or spiritually. They were loved and nutured and taught in the ways of the Lord. I know this because Karly's mom lived with us, too, for awhile.

There was a time when Karly's mama was like a daughter to me. A daughter with a propensity toward living the reckless life. Karly's mama liked to hang at the bars. She liked to play video poker. She liked to smoke and drink and flirt. The night before Karly died, she had oral sex in the alleyway with a man who wasn't her boyfriend. But she's a pretty woman, very pretty. She's gotten away with a lot of things in this life that would have sent an ugly woman to jail.

Because she's a pretty woman who was raised in the church and knows all the right things to say and the soft ways to say them, people are prone to give her a break. But the truth is, she was a selfish woman and a lousy mother.

We had a bad fight when she told me she was leaving Karly's daddy. She said she wasn't happy anymore. I told her I didn't give a care about her happiness. What I cared about is that David loved Karly and he loved her. I told her that she had to put Karly's needs first. But she didn't listen to me. She never listened to people who said things she didn't want to hear.

I didn't blame Karly for wanting to be like her daddy when she grew up. David was the one consistent in her life. The one person Karly knew would never, ever hurt her. He was out-of-town the week Karly was killed. Even so, when the detectives asked Karly's mama who had brutalized her daughter so, she said it had to be David, who else?

It's a sad tale. The horrors inflicted upon Karly Sheehan continue to haunt the jurors who found Shawn W. Field guilty. They had a difficult time understanding how a man who had been by most accounts a decent father to his own daughter could be so abusive toward David's daughter.

Last year on Fathers Day, David called and told me that no one had mentioned Karly to him at all.

I understand that. How should one go about wishing Happy Fathers Day to the father whose child is dead?

Besides we often fail to recognize the good dads among us. The dads who grieve the children they've lost, whether by divorce or by death, and care dilligently for the ones they still have.

David Sheehan no longer has a daughter to raise but I still consider him one of the finest fathers I've ever met.

I asked him once how he managed to get out of bed each day. What kept him from despair?

"Karly was such a bright and beautiful and joyous girl," David said. "I just want to be the kind of man she would be proud of."

On behalf of those who know you best, David, I just want to say Happy Fathers Day to one of the best fathers I've ever known.

You are exactly the kind of person that Karly wanted to be when she grew up. A good and gracious and nurturing man. The very kind of dad fatherless children like me dream of having.

_____________
The above commentary by Karen Spears Zacharias comes from a true crime memoir titled The Other Side of Wrong: A Lament for Karly Sheehan. Her agent is shopping the book around.

20.6.09

thirsting for coffee with God


"If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink..." Of course, it's a bit of a rhetorical statement, offered as it was at a time whenon demand faucets and indoor plumbing hadn't yet been invented, and offered in a place that regular saw temperatures above 100, (or 30 if you're Canadian). Of course they're thirsty. The words of Jesus aren't really words about thirst; the thirst part is presupposed.

The real heart of the statement is that when you're thirsty, you're to come and drink of Jesus. Now, I love metaphor as much as most people (save some geeky poet friends), but there are times when Jesus' words frustrate me no end. He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What's that supposed to mean? When His mom comes looking for Him, he turns to the crowd and says, "Who is my mother?" as if He's forgotten what she looks like. And now this: "if you're thirsty, come and drink of me." Unlike some of the most popular parables, Jesus never took the disciples aside in the back room and explained this thirst metaphor. He just hung it out there for us to embrace and practice without offering a stitch of explanation.

While this frustrates me, it's also true that these open ended statements are part of what makes the Bible live for every generation. Because everything's not spelled out, we need to wrestle with it, pray about it, talk about it, contextualize it, and hold our answers with enough boldness to explain why believe them, and enough humility to discard them when more light shines on our convictions and shows us we need to shift. So, realizing that we don't have the privilege of Jesus sidebar interpretation, here's how this living word has been speaking to me lately:

First of all, I reiterate that the issue isn't whether or not I'm thirsty; thanks be to God I am, and most of the time. I thirst for intimacy in my marriage, meaning in my work, healing of my soul, authentic relationships with my adult children. I thirst to be informed by truth and grace as I fulfill my responsibilities of a shepherd. I thirst for sanity in world, peace, justice, beauty, hope.

If those were the limits of my thirsts then learning to drink from Jesus would be simple because these are good thirsts and a good drink will quench a good thirst. My problem, though, is that interwoven with those few noble thirsts are lots of other things, uglier things. I thirst to be adored, to be left alone, to be comfortable, to be so wealthy and secure that I need never depend on anyone again, least of all God. I thirst for relational autonomy way too often. I thirst for the stimulation of the city, and the beauty of the mountains. I thirst to expand my sphere of influence, and to move to the middle of nowhere, where I can fish, cook, climb, and be the master of my own universe.

What a mess of thirsts! And herein lies the hope of Jesus words, the point for me at which they begin to make sense. It's encouraging that Jesus doesn't moralize about my thirsts, casting judgement on my desires. I can already hear some of you accusing me of heresy here, but don't light the fire yet. For too many centuries, the church has wrongly assessed that our problems stem from our desires. But I can't find Jesus running around ranting about our desires anywhere in the gospels, even the non-canonical ones!

Instead, His invitation is related to what we do when the pangs of any thirst are born in our hearts, never mind whether the thirst comes from our wounded, rebellious soul, or our deepest longings for the world God created. In both cases the admonition is the same: if you're thirsty, come to Jesus. This is profoundly liberating for me because I'm learning to link my relationship with Jesus with all my thirsts, not just my healthy ones, but the unhealthy ones too.

It's also counterintuitive. The gnawing unhealthy thirsts tell me that they won't be satisfied with anything less than an unhealthy beverage, the soul equivilant of a monster slurpee when what I really need is fresh squeezed OJ. Of course, this is where faith comes in. This is where I'm learning to interact with Jesus and find some measure of satisfaction in Him, both when I'm thirsting for healthy intimacy, and when I'm lusting for pleasure or escape. Somehow, the turning to Christ in the midst of my unhealthy thirsts has the effect of changing my appetites; not instantly, and not entirely, but subtly and slowly. Thanks be to God, I'm slowly losing my appetite for soul slurpees.

The methodology Jesus had mind for "drinking of Him" remains a mystery because I don't think He had a methodology in mind. He wants us to wrestle with this stuff. For me, a born and bred Baptist, it's taken nearly half a century to discover that this "drinking of Christ" works best for my sould when I pray daily prayers from a book like this one, which is a decidedly non-Baptist practice. "Coffee with God" is what I call it, and it's become increasingly important to my mornings, not in a legalistic way, but in some sort of better way. It entails brewing a pot of French Press and then sitting (outside or in, depending on seasons) with Jesus as I pray the daily prayers, drawn from the Psalms, and pour out my heart. I do this because of all my thirsts, and for this reason, I'm learning to thank God for this holy and unholy juxtaposition of desires because together they lead me to the water of Christ I'd never have found if I weren't thirsty.

The Purpose-Driven Centrist: I'm emergent, you're emergent, we're all emergent together

I've been reading through a fascinating book by Phyllis Tickle called The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Ms. Tickle knows her religious history, as you will see if you read the book. Her top resume item alone is impressive: founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly. I've been fascinated by the emerging and Emergent movement in Christianity for some time now, and being someone who likes looking at the big picture of things, this book hits right at home for me. Tickle looks at the whole picture, not only of this current emerging movement, but examines the whole of Christendom of the past two plus millenia. As explained in the introduction, the Right Reverend Mark Dyer observes that institutional Christianity has continually had a semi-millenial rummage sale, cleaning out what is shattered in order to renew and grow anew. What I was pleased to read was a description of Christianity going through a new re-formation, The Great Emergence, just as three other re-formations before it.

Tickle shows the context of the Great Reformation began much further back than Luther nailing his theses to that door. Around 140 years prior, the Reformation cracks began to split when two simultaneous and very political elections of popes occurred in 1378. The notion of who has or what is the authority came to the forefront, and would continue to be called into question in other events, such as astronomer and clergyman Copernicus writing (but not yet publishing) his theories that the sun was the center of the universe. Gutenberg's invention of the printing press helped spread those challenging theories to the common man along with ancient writers like Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, etc. which were brought into Europe a century before by Greek Orthodox scholars who fled Constantinople upon its capture by the Ottoman Turks. What is clear historically is that the Great Reformation was no more started by Martin Luther himself than the Great Emergence can be pinned down to (or on, depending on your bent) any person, say a Brian McLaren or Tony Jones or any other famously attacked emergent Christian.

The main two off-shoots of the Great Reformation, which we are can agree, were the notions of sola scriptura et scriptura sola or "only scripture and scripture alone" and the priesthood of all believers. That authority structure replaced the conflict and mess of authority in multiple popes, and began the process of deep-rooted investigation into scripture as the foundation of Christianity, which naturally led to further conflict and the beginnings of what we know now as thousands of Protestant denominations. While the founding fathers of Protestantism infamously and bitterly disagreed and halted conversations by spinning off into their own congregations, the leaders of the emerging movement are at least trying to open and conversant in this new re-formation of institutional Christianity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

So as the Great Reformation had political, cultural, scientific, and technological breakthroughs which significantly influenced Christendom, what have been the breakthroughs that cracked the foundations for this re-formation now being called the Great Emergence? Charles Darwin (evolution) and Michael Faraday (electromagnetic discoveries) make the shift from post-Reformation to peri-Emergence, with Faraday having the more significant impact technologically and later culturally, and Darwin forcing the church to emerge doctrinally by conservative denominations forming fundamental theological statements to claim true Christian belief. Freud and Carl Jung came along with scientific theories of the mind and unconscious, which influenced people like Joseph Campbell to challenge the doctrine and principle that Jesus and Jesus alone is "God with us" and salvation for all humankind is exclusively through Jesus alone. The advent of radio and television became the printing press of the Emergence re-formation and therefore institutional Christianity now had to compete with these thinkers and discovers through a new and widespread media.

Where Tickle goes into great detail is the chapter called "The Century of Emergence". Briefly, the list of influences includes Einstein and Heisenberg and Uncertainty, which badly woulds sola scriptura and the subsequent the rise of Pentacostalism with deep roots in egalitarianism and the influence of historic African-American spirituality to respond to the scientific challenges on spiritual authority. Going on, the invention of the automobile directly affects the basic infrastructure of Christian community, which was rooted in the nuclear and extended family. The Sabbath was replaced by "Sunday drives" and Grandma, the spiritual matriarch, was left in the dust. This doesn't even touch on how World War II and "Rosie the Riveter" affected family and gender roles in church and society. Add in influence of Alcoholics Anonymous (which brought in small groups and showed that healing and support did not come from the pulpit but from others who are just as broken, as well as continue the voice of being spiritual but not religious), the Drug Age, and Buddhism, you will find all sorts of threats and challenges to the institutional church. Finally we have the technological explosion of the 80's, 90's, and into the 21st century where individualism and instant gratification perpetuate throughout all life and culture. This is a bombarding of a Christianity that has already changed significantly three times prior.

The point of this whole context is that Christianity has had no choice but to emerge, and no matter how much some want to deny it, we are all emerging. There isn't a current and prevalent denomination that hasn't emerged within the past century which shows the re-formation of Christianity is occurring. Phyllis Tickle shows clearly the how and why, not if and when. And, as someone who likes the big picture and finds himself most comfortable in the center, I found this particular chart most interesting:

(unashamedly "borrowed")

The four quadrants of this chart are Liturgicals, Social Justice Christians, Renewalists, and Conservatives. They used to be considered denominationally as Catholics/Anglicans/Lutherans, Methodists/Mainline, Pentacostals, and Evangelicals/Fundamentalists respectively. But those became somewhat erroneous categorizations and the current quadrilateral is used. The axes are defined as followed.
those placed above the horizontal axis, in general, are so because "what one does religiously is more central to his or her understanding of Christian living than is what one believes doctrinally." Conversely, those below, in general, are so because "what one doctrinally believes is more central than what one does religiously."
The top vertical axis represents the tension between faith and works. If given a choice on Sabbath between mass or a Habitat for Humanity build, again in general a Social Justice Christian would choose, with some regret, Habitat for faith without works is meaningless, while a Liturgical would choose mass, also with some regret, because works without faith are empty.
As can be seen in the image above, what the Great Emergence has done is create "a gathering center" where the axis lines are blended. Individual Christians are now emerging as well as the institutional church, where the authority of the quadrants is no longer held firm and Christians are finding value in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, faith and works, old and new, conservative and liberal. Statistics show we aren't staying loyal to denominations or churches. Membership numbers are down not just because people aren't attending churches, but because people aren't identifying with just one church or one community.

So while the emerging and emergent church leaders have received a ton of praise and flack for the conversation, what is being made clear is that this re-formation of the church is indeed a great emergence both institutionally and individually. As I started to say earlier, what the emerging conversation is doing is giving opportunity to re-form, renew, and grow anew the authority of Jesus in an entirely opposite manner than the Great Reformation forefathers. While Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Buce, Schutz, Bullinger, etc brought Christendom into subject of the authority of scripture, they also tore apart many opportunities for unity in Christ. Where we, as the Church, go from here only God knows. But as we continue to emerge and gather in the center, we have an opportunity to focus on the cross that connects us all.

19.6.09

Interesting week here in Lake Sinbegone

[I live just outside of Colorado Springs; based on the number of Christian ministries there, it is the evangelical equivalent of Mecca]

Well, I figured it would be a rather quiet week here in Lake Sinbegone.  Summer's here and folks are staycationing, renting Benjamin Button and all.  But bless God, I am always surprised. On Tuesday, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly announced that male employees no longer had to wear business attire, such as neckties, and female employees can now wear those snappy pantsuits like Hil Clin.  According to one report, employees stood and shouted hallelujah! in response to the good news.  Some of them wanted to lift holy hands and turn on the new fog machine, but around here, one thing at time, please.  

However, the most liberating aspect of Tuesday's news was permission for the ladies at Focus to take off their pantyhose.  They were expressly urged to do this once they got home, but then, once they were off, they could leave 'em off.  Apparently the proof for this text was Song of Solomon 7.1 - "How beautiful are your feet in sandals." (NASB)  In some of those newfangled transphrases it reads "Nice toe cleavage, sis." Focus spokeswoman Lisa Anderson said, "...easing up on formal attire also will...encourage tourists to hobnob with Focus employees." 

I must say my rocking chair missed a rock when I heard the word hobnob.  Dear lord in heaven. Sweet Merriam-Webster describes the archaic word thusly: "to drink sociably" - the etymology from the obsolete phrase drink hobnob, to drink alternately to one another.  Now I don't believe Anderson had drink hobnob in mind when she chose that word, but there are slippery prairie dog hills around here, there really are, and I can foresee thousands, maybe even millions, of tourists showing up on the hill this summer expecting free Fat Tire from ladies perched on legs sans hose.  From a distance such as my porch, I'm having visions of the wayward Hebrew children dancing 'round the golden beast on liberated thighs and a nicely toned calf or two. Mercy.  

Focus tour-guide (concerned): Please, folks, don't you want to come in and watch the Dobsonmentary.  It's quite comprehensive.

Tourists (smiling): Nope, we're good.  God bless America and God bless hobnobbin'.

Reason #2534 Why I Love My Church

I've been on staff at Grace for 12-years and I keep finding new reasons to stay. Reason #2534 of why I love Grace is its growing commitment to the needy. Our Outreach Pastor, Mike, is on the local board of Habitat for Humanity. As a result of Mike's leadership, Grace participated in a three week build of a Habitat house. The foundation was poured and then the clock started. In three weeks churches banded together to build the home from the ground up. Today is day 19. A Sudanese refuge family will be given the keys this Sunday afternoon. I worked alongside the husband last week. He was a doctor in Sudan and is now starting over with a job in social work.

Somewhere in the planning phase, I'm not privy to the details, the Mayor's Office approached Grace about being a partner in ABC's reality show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The leadership was undeterred by the potential over lap of schedules and agreed to neighbor up.

This morning hundreds of tradesmen, contractors, volunteers, and civic leaders poured into our worship center for a volunteer orientation and pep rally lead by Conrad of Lock and Key, the production company that produces the show. We met a bunch of friends, some who will be building in Jesus name, and some who won't. All that showed up are generous, self-sacrificial people who just love our community.

I love being a part of a church that saw another opportunity to serve and didn't shrink back as we've just finished building a home, thank you.

18.6.09

And on this Rock I will Build My Basketball Court

This past week I went from Portland to Keokuck, Iowa for a friends wedding. The wedding was nice. My Chinese friend, Jiang, from Shanghai was marrying a white girl, Rachel, from Iowa (I feel that this is proof/hope for world peace). His parents came to the States for the first time. The bridesmaids were looking good wearing traditional Chinese dresses while us guys were just kinda standing there the way groomsmen do at weddings.

After the pictures I had to use the restroom. But the one connected to the sanctuary was being repaired so I was directed to use the building across the way. So I went and when I finished I met two friends standing outside. The conversation goes like this. They both were smirking (I’ll refer to them as FRIEND #1 and FRIEND #2).

FRIEND #1 and FRIEND #2: “Where is the bathroom?”

ME: Pointing back at the building I came from. “It’s over there.”

Now here’s where they start speaking at the same time . . . interrupting each other. They asked me again where it was and before I had a chance to say anything thing they started answering their own question as to where the bathroom was.

FRIEND #1: “The Homeless Shelter?"

FRIEND #2: Nodding his head, “The basketball court?”


FRIEND #1: “The Food Bank?”

FRIEND #2: “The basketball court?”


FRIEND #1: “Medical facilities?“

FRIEND #2: “Basketball court?”


FRIEND #1: “Counseling center.”

FRIEND #2: “Basketball court?”


FRIEND #1: “AIDS Clinic?”

FRIEND #2: “Basketball court?”


I started laughing. As it turned out friend #2 was right. The bathrooms were in the basketball court after all. How the hell did he know? I’m from the Mid-West (Missouri) and so naturally I understand the Churches obsession with gyms and sports-related-evangelism. I think you would be hard pressed to find a newer/growing Church that didn't have one. I mean, it would damn near be sacrilege not to.

The pressing question remains . . . To which basketball-court do you belong?

17.6.09

Spirits in the Material World: All Truth is God's Truth




In 1633, the following conversation took place somewhere in the Vatican.

Galileo Galilei: Hey, Pope Urban VIII! I discovered that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun!

Pope Urban VIII: No, it doesn’t.

Galileo: It totally does. I can prove it. Look, I brought schematics.

Pope: The earth doesn’t move. Take it back.

Galileo: No, you take it back!

Pope: Swiss Guards! Take this egghead and stretch him until he recants and decapitate him if he doesn’t. Watch the end of Braveheart if you need some pointers.

Galileo: I take it back.

A popular legend maintains that Galileo muttered, “And yet it moves” at the end of this conversation. This probably isn’t true. He wouldn’t have risked getting in even deeper do-do. It is true, however, that this incident represents one the biggest paradigm shifts in history. Before The Renaissance, Science was a sub-discipline of Theology. To understand the material world was to understand God. If something was true, it belonged to both science and religion. The Church’s inquisition of Galileo signified the impending divorce between science and religion.

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that science and religion were ever married. A few months ago at Fuller Seminary, I was waiting for a Theology class to clear out I could begin my Clinical Psychology class. On his way out, the instructor asked what I was teaching and I told him.

“Faith and psychology together,” he said. “That’s kind of a new thing.”

“Not really,” I said, recalling a host of luminaries, from Paul to Luther to Wittgenstein.

“You know what I mean,” he said. “New for us.”

I had no idea what he meant, but smiled and nodded anyway (This guy was a guest lecturer, by the way. Regular Theology faculty at Fuller would never utter such words).

Christianity and science are often enemies now. When a rare alliance forms, it’s uneasy. Christians doing science tend to be either sheep or pit bulls. Most downplay their faith, but some bludgeon the intellectual establishment with “scientific evidence” of their worldview. It’s unfashionable to pursue truth with zeal, heedless of the ramifications for the Church or the Academy.

How ‘bout we change that.

When Rob Bell wrote, “All truth is God’s truth” in Velvet Elvis, he said what I’d been thinking but seldom saying my entire adult life. Bell was talking about different religions, but my mind went to science. I’ve always thought Christians should be at the forefront of science, not bringing up the rear or trying to subvert the entire discipline with a particular interpretation of Scripture. We should be the ones most eager for discovery and most willing to change our minds. We know our finitude next to the infinite mysteries of God. In other words, we should be passionate about scientific discovery because we know how stupid we are.

A couple times a month, let’s talk about God’s truth in the material world. Let’s revel in new discoveries. Let’s challenge bold claims unsupported by hard evidence. And let’s challenge anyone who distorts data to make a buck, whether it’s Big Pharma or the ladies on The View. We’ll seek truth, regardless of where it comes from. We’ve come along away since Pope Urban VIII. Not everybody, I guess, but most of us.

I can think of few communities better able to have this discussion than BWC. See you in a couple weeks.


P.S. Prince B sent word that he was resigning as Anti-Ombudsman. He said something about BWC becoming “tiresome and unglamourous” and needing to “put out a particularly annoying fire in Iran.” There was more, but he used a lot of words I didn’t know.

Stuff White Christians Like


Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's the result of having grown up in a region of the country where even my granny would pull back the curtain with her cane and comment,"There goes those (insert N-word) again."

Poor white folks made it their business to mind what the poor black folks were doing. I never considered Granny anything but godly, but the truth was she was as racist as anyone else of her generation.

And mine.

Family myth claims my uncle was a card-carrying member of the KKK.

It's probably not a myth.

From the time I entered school until I was in my second year of high school, the only blacks I encountered either mopped the floors or spooned up tater tots.

If you knew my granny you'd be shocked. She was the kindest, sweetest, most loving woman, but she simply didn't know any different.

I didn't either.

Until I was in high school.

That was when all hell broke loose.

Joe Kirkland got into a fight in the school parking lot. Somebody cut him bad with a switchblade. I heard tell his mama had to carry him to the hospital where he got 20 stitches. Brother Frankie got sent off to military school and Mama threatened to send me off to boarding school in Virginia until I put my foot down and told her if she even tried, I'd run off to Florida. Mama didn't want any of her other children going to school with blacks but running off to Florida was considered a worse fate. Florida had drugs and the Hell's Angels.

Blacks had head lice.

Blacks ran in gangs.

Blacks would rape white girls.

It all seems so far away to me now, like watching 8mm reel of somebody else's life. But the truth is white people all over town started pulling their white kids out public school and sending them off to private "Christian" schools. Schools where white girls couldn't come into contact with black boys.

It's changed now. I was in Atlanta recently visiting a girlfriend. Her kids go to one of the region's most elite private schools. It looked like a college campus. There were kids of every make and model there.

I saw interracial couples embracing on a pier at Mobile Bay and outside the Cameo Theatre in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

That would never have happened when I was growing up. Somebody, probably a lot of somebodies, would have snatched such a couple by the roots of their head for PDA back in the day.

My friend Ralph's grandaddy was white. His Mee-maw was black. It was against the law for them to marry. So they shacked up at the end of a dirt road. Ralph said it was so his grandaddy could see if the lynch mob was coming for him.

When you grow up in that kind of world, it makes you sensitive to stuff that doesn't bother other folk. So I simply can't be objective about this. But when somebody told me to check out Stuff White Christians Like I didn't like it.

Where I come from, it's just not funny.

Not in the least.

You might understand if you'd grown up in the world I did.

Some Belated Thoughts on the End of "The Sopranos"

I finished “The Sopranos” on Saturday. I didn’t watch the second half of Season 6 when it aired on HBO because it had been too long since I had seen everything up to that point. I wanted to begin from the beginning, which I did in early May. I watched 86 episodes in six weeks, an average of 2.047 episodes per day, mostly on lunch breaks and late at night after my wife and daughter were in bed. I didn’t read any fiction in that time. “The Sopranos” was my novel.

After watching the final episode (don’t worry, no spoilers), I read excerpts of an interview with David Chase, the show’s creator, in which he said this about loyal viewers and their expectations for the series finale: “They had gleefully watched [Tony Soprano] rob, kill, pillage, lie and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted ‘justice’ . . .The pathetic thing – to me – was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”

I had such a different experience than what Chase described that I’m considering four possibilities: 1) I didn’t pick up cues in the show that I was supposed to be rooting for Tony as he used and abused nearly everyone with whom he came in contact, including his family and closest friends; 2) I watched a different version of the show, the non-director’s cut, perhaps; 3) Chase’s cynicism put him so far outside the mainstream that he failed to understand his audience, even as he created one of the greatest television shows of all time; and/or 4) I’m the one outside the mainstream, I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

I admit I lived vicariously through Tony. But it wasn’t during those scenes in which he robbed, killed, pillaged, lied, and cheated. It was in the rare quiet moments with his family, usually at the end of a season, and especially in the office of his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, when he tried to make sense of himself and his place in the world. I understand, in my own way, the depression and the feelings of being trapped. I recognize too in Tony the rage, the self-deception, the hunger and lust and hubris – and also the consequences of yielding ground to those urges. For me, watching this show again, I had no shortages of second chances for Tony, even when Tony didn’t extend a second chance to someone else. I rooted not for Tony’s sins, but for his redemption, as I hope for my own redemption.

All those years of therapy and Tony never left organized crime. But he learned enough to keep his kids away from it. Live or die in the final episode, the Soprano family’s cycle of violence and betrayal will end with him. That makes Tony a kind of hero. That is a kind of redemption.

16.6.09

It Should Not Have Taken 9 Months for Me to Read David Foster Wallace

Last September, Dan Gibson texted me: "David Foster Wallace killed himself."

I am ashamed to admit this, but my response was "Who?"

Maybe it's the milquetoast name, which could be the moniker of any white male, from serial killer to land baron. I'm sure, at some point, I'd heard of him. The title of his most famous novel, "The Infinite Jest," was familiar.

As more and more news stories hailed his literary genius cut short, I didn't know what to think. People had good things to say, sure, but people usually have good things to say when someone dies. There's often a litany of hyperbolic praise, claims of "genius". Reality gets blown out of proportion.

What if Eddie Vedder had blown his own head off at a home on Lake Washington? What if Paul McCartney had been gunned down on a street in New York. Would "Evenflow" be the anthem of a decade? Would "Maybe I'm Amazed" be considered the greatest rock tune of all-time?

(No and no. But it's enough to wonder.)

The point is, I hardly wanted to become one of those people who jumps on the dead-artist bandwagon.

Then Dan handed me DFW's book of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. The collection's first essay, on Midwestern winds and youth tennis, was interesting but wordy. I bogged down on the next one, which alarmed me because it was a piece on television (one of my favorite subjects). I respected the writing. It was obvious both that Wallace was a brilliant thinker and wordsmith, and that he somehow managed to avoid pretension. But I couldn't get into it.

Then, for some reason, I skipped to the back and read his essay on a Carribean cruise, the essay the collection is named after. It took three paragraphs, the third of which was only one sentence long...
"I have (very briefly) joined a Conga Line."
...and I was sucked in. I've blown through every other essay in the book. I now cannot imagine a world without the writing of David Foster Wallace, which is painful because what is out there now is all we'll ever have.

From all accounts, Wallace's essay writing is more light-hearted than his fiction, so I'm not sure A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is emblematic of his writing as a whole. I know it's a good place to start, though.

I'm a bit obsessed now (Dan claims the same tendency). I've been reading through every article I can find on him, from an excellent remembrance in Rolling Stone to an essay on Roger Federer in Play Magazine to the best graduation speech you'll ever read. I can't get enough of his writing.

It's not just Wallace's ability to spin words and phrases (though he does those things as well as anyone I've ever read). Anyone can write well with practice.

It's Wallace's insight that made him so unbelievably great. In some ways, he's the perfect writer: a nearly holy amalgamation of intellect, aesthetic sense, and empathy. It's almost not surprising, given his unnatural insight and mind, he would take his own life. The tortured artist archetype is cliche, but like all cliches, it is rooted in reality. From the RS piece, it seems clear Wallace was dealing with the same insecurities many artists feel: reality in opposition to idealism; authenticity in opposition to feeling like a fraud. You can also see times where he was healthy, where he distanced himself from self-obsession.
(Wallace) said one interviewer had devoted tons of energy to the genius question. "That was his whole thing, 'Are you normal?' 'Are you normal?' I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die."
His best essays are written from this perspective, like when he marvels as a mere mortal at the craft of professional tennis players, or writes of his fellow cruisers with affection and solidarity. I wish he could've stayed in that frame of mind.

All that's to say, if you're blissfully unaware of David Foster Wallace the way I was, pick up A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Start at page 256. I swear you will be glad you did.

(Dan wrote a lovely blogpost about Wallace two days after he died. Here's that.)