Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Rich Dog and the Poor Kitten

A few weeks ago, David found a stray cat that lives in the cracked foundation of the house next door huddled between my Carolina Jessamine and Margariette's hollyhock in the front flower bed. When she saw him, she ran away and left her new kitten behind.

I've enjoyed watching that little kitten hide under the srubs in the alley and paw at the branches of the low-hanging trees. She was getting a little bigger every day.

On Saturday, David found her in the gutter making a horrible sound. Her little body was contorted and bloated. We called animal control to come and get her, but they called us later saying that she was dead and they "don't pick up the dead ones." We couldn't wait for the sanitation department to come and get her today, so David burried her.

On Friday, Corduroy Dog received $280 worth of vaccinations, cortisone injections and special medicine to make her coat shiny and her skin less irritated. I took her to a very Posh animal clinic in Altadena where the vets have all written very Posh disertations about various animal ailments and their cures. They have a million different doggie medicines at their disposal to make every doggie shiny and healthy and strong. In their exam rooms, there are pictures of happy German Shepherds with their happy families and fluffy cats sleeping on warm windowsils. I'm going to send them this picture of Corduroy Dog today.

They love Corduroy Dog (and who doesn't?) so, they take very good care of her every time she comes in. And we love her, too, so we keep taking her there. Our vet, Dr. Moyana, is the best. And we want our doggie to have the best.

Corduroy Dog was sitting on the porch when David burried the kitten. When he finished, I thought of her and of the kitten and how some animals go to very Posh Animal Clinics and receive more advanced care than is even available to humans in most parts of the world, and some animals die in the gutter of neglect. And it's true of people, too.

Here in Birmingham, there are people dying in the gutter of neglect within walking distance of some of the most sophisticated medical facilities in the world.

My cynicism tells me that there really isn't much to do about it, either. There's no end to poverty or suffering or loss. Sometimes, I think it's kind of a joke to think there's anything to do about it, either. So, I just try and be grateful for what I do have. That's the only real response, I think.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Story of the Vine, the Gardener and Me

Without the Vine, the Branch can have no life. Without the Branch, the Vine is alone with the Soil, the Air, the Water and the Gardener. There is no fruit without the Branch. Without the Vine, the Branch can have no life. This is a strange symbiosis that leads me to see the value of one lonely branch under the fierce pruning shears of the Gardener.

Jesus said to his disciples:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts away every branch of mine that doesn't produce fruit. But he trims clean every branch that does produce fruit, so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already clean because of what I have said to you.

Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. If you don't stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Frederica Matthewes-Green's pro-life essays.

I just wanted you guys to see this articulate explination of where the Pro-Life movement has failed and where it can make up some ground.

You can comment if you'd like. I know you're reading. And you know who you are.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Willing Away the Little Ones

A chorus of voices in the media call us to heed the genocide in Darfur, regard the AIDS epidemic, be concerned about Global Warming and care about the poor in our cities. It seems to me that there is an equally pressing cause far from the African savannah in a place overlooked by Bono and Angelina Jolie. It's here. In Birmingham. Within walking distance of my own safe little house.

On February 20, 2006 a woman known only as "Patient A" visited Summit Medical Center here on the Southside of Birmingham. After an ultra-sound performed by someone who wasn't a doctor, Patient A was told she was 6 weeks pregnant. She was then subjected to a chemical abortion performed, again, by someone who had never attended medical school. Six days later, Patient A delivered a stillborn six-pound, four-ounce baby. Doctors say it was nearly full-term.

It's beyond my comprehension that in this town of medical doctors, first-class hospitals, and a renowned medical school that this should take place. This isn't about the spurious right to choose, this is about something more common and in this case, more sinister. This is about money in someone's pocket.

This incident is tragic for the woman and tragic for the child, but the tentacles of tragedy extend a little further in this case. This case is a tragedy for women. Women, of course, bear the brunt of the consequences of sexual irresponsibility. This was always true and this will always be true. But this makes me see how our sexuality is a commodity in the free-market of American debauchery. On the front end, a woman is a stripper, then a prostitute, then a victim of abortion, all the way, generating money and fueling the seedy economy of sex.

From now on, I won't be as "tolerant" of those people who support abortions on demand in America. Would they be tolerant of someone who said "genocide is all about choice. We should respect the rights of Africans to be slaughtered." No. I doubt they would.

Abortion is murder. And that's all there is to say about that. Except for one thing:

"Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them." Susan B. Anthony (1889)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Repression in the Name of God is Repression in the Name of Fear

It's about 3:45 in the morning. It is completely unnatural that I should be awake at this hour. David is on the sofa because he has a meeting in the morning and I can't stop flopping around. It's very bright outside here. We visited David's parents this weekend in their little Tennessee town. Everything there gets dark at night. I think it makes you more human to be able to sleep in the absolute dark. (I have a vision of living on a little farm near David's little Tennessee home. It's beautiful country and blessed by God.) Corduroy Dog is sleeping on her pillow out on the sunporch with me. I think it's amazing that so many hurts can be healed by the friendly greeting of one four-legged animal. She has a place in God's creation.

At night, we confront the myths we believe about ourselves. At night, the shroud is stripped away and we either see things more clearly or see things twisted by the way our minds crawl around inside our otherwise empty skulls.

Over the course of a year, I've encountered some of the most disagreeable humans I could ever imagine. They've all been men and they've all be Christians. I'm of the opinion that a Christian man with a divine charter is one of the strongest forces on the planet, so this isn't going to be a treatise on the evils of repressed males in the Church. I guess this is more of an observation.

Everywhere I look, I can see evidence of Evil's desire to destroy the souls of women, especially the elect that God loves.

It's time for me to draw Evil's lies into the light so the Holy Spirit and I can look at them together and vanquish them one by one.

Our church gives cowards a cave in which to hide and a defenseless person to attack by the way we interpret Scriptures. I wrote this today and as I've considered it, I've believed it more: Orthodoxy is judged by the way a church allocates (or fails to allocate) power to women..

Consider the implications of this. Where women with power are a symbol of a disrespect for scripture, women don't even have a voice. We've believed that this is as it should be. We've internalized it. We've stopped talking because we think it's God's will and we want to please Him. Tonight, as I lie awake struggling with this, it becomes clear to me that this isn't his will at all. What a travesty and a perversion of the beautiful and significant differences between woman and man!

Suddenly, images of women in church, heads bowed eyes closed not caring because they can't care, not speaking because they can't speak. Repression in the name of God, is repression in the name of fear. We waste our time trying to secure the ordination of women, but the issue is the responsibility of every woman to reflect her Creator in strength, dignity and tenacity. This is harder to define, I suppose, and we're left diffused and rebutted by the Scripture that should befriend us. We're back at the start. The ordination of women is a red herring flung before us to divert us from our goal: to be what and who God created.

All of these musings must come to a point. All of this theory must come to a cogent action. What must it be? I resolve to embrace what I know to be true of me without pandering to the movement of the Feminists or the Fundamentalists. I resolve to silence the fear I have of being "unfeminine", opinionated, and shrill. I resolve to expect God to show up and defend me. I resolve to be patient only with the process, but not with its commencement.

I think I can sleep now.


Freedom for Everything Is Freedom For Nobody

Surely, I'm not the first person to try and tackle this axiom. Perhaps, I could better title this rant "Freedom is in the Eye of the Beholder."

Lately, I've read considerable criticism of Christians: their conversations, their churches, their scriptures and their lifestyles. Some of it is well-deserved, but this isn't about that. This is about the strange phenomenon of self-criticism in what might be part of the nebulous "emerging church." When I consider this issue, I feel as if I've been slathered in peanut butter and rolled in coconut. I just want to go and take a shower.

Many people come from a place, be it only in their minds, where they were told to "keep a stiff upper lip" so to speak. Criticism of the church became a forbidden sweet only to be tasted under the bleachers where mom wasn't looking. Bit by bit, the cookie was consumed leaving the consumer with an even greater desire to eat. These are the mechanics of criticism. (I'm reminded of a story my mother-in-law told of a girl who wasn't allowed any junk food at home. Apparently, when she went to babysit for the neighbors, she would eat every sweet or simple-carbohydrate that she could.)

My point is that criticism is a habit.

I feel that we, as humans making slow and unsteady progress down the proverbial narrow path, somehow come to understand that our struggles, self-doubts, self-criticism, and fears are common to man and understood by many. Sometimes, we even realize that our grievous offenses are foibles rendered harmless in light of Christ's sacrifice. And they are. Kind of.

Running with this knowledge, we dive headfirst into the business of sharing it with each other and what was once "one hungry man telling another where he found bread" becomes a new bondage to self-examination and ultimately self indulgence.

Whereas we once choked on the bones of piety, holiness, legalism and self-improvement, we now smother by the garrote that is license, gluttony and self-aggrandizement.

This new bondage has become the gospel of the church emergent, the scripture of the new Christianity is personal desire fulfilled. The habitual criticism of the Old Regime is the Eucharist in the worship of the Individual.

And surely, this is not freedom. Oh that we could throw off the chains of the legalist and his church and not exchange them for the noose of our design woven from neurotic and possessive love of ourselves that we cherish and hide as if it were treasure.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

In Cold Blood

I just finished Truman Capote's non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood. I think it is, perhaps, one of the best works I've ever read. Fiction or non, in school or out. It's punctuated with tersely cogent bits of observation that render an otherwise journalistic narrative a masterpiece.

...one juror, as though poisoned by the numerous spring-fever yawns weighing the air, sat with drugged eyes and jaws so utterly ajar bees could have buzzed in and out.

Pausing, Green gingerly touched a boil on the back of his neck, a mature inflamation that seemed, like its angry wearer, about to burst.

Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of the wind voices in the wind-beat wheat.

This is the story of a murder. No, more than a murder. A vicious rending of not only a family, but a community, a town, and ultimately, Capote himself. David asked me why I had not read this book in one of my English classes. That, I had an answer to, but I cannot fathom why I did not read this book in one of my journalism classes. This is the kind of prose that acts like an emery on the sensibilities of any reader who writes. Words, alternately weapons of assault and instruments of melodramatic manipulation leap off the pages to illustrate plainly Capote's own musings and empiricism.

This must have been journalism one wrote for people who could actually read. This must have been the time and the kind of journalism I saw so gilded in the lectures of my journalism professors that ultimately jettisoned my career as a journalist. I never saw writing like this at the papers or magazines for which I wrote and I never will.

Oh America. I read a great deal these days about the contempt in which you are held by your citizens. I don't worry about this as much as I worry about the language they use to give turgorless voice to their criticism.

The vast majority of what I read seems to have been written by the only passably literate. Angry words that lie flaccidly on a page like potato peelings shouldn't be able to pass for intellegent phrases or even for those with passion. I stand ignorant, against a tide of knowledge that no one has noticed in quite some time.


Friday, May 05, 2006

My Brush with Myrtle (Or, the Phenomenon My Theology Just Won't Support)

I think I live in a haunted house.

It's not frightening, unsettling, or even strange. But it is haunted. I first met Myrtle (more on why I call her Myrtle later) when I was sitting at my dining room table using my laptop. I continued to see someone through the glass on the front door walking down the sidewalk, but every time I looked up to see who it was, they were gone. Convinced it was just a reflection, I kept working and tried to ignore it. Finally, it became so annoying that I moved.

About two weeks later, David was home to work and trying to use the laptop to check his e-mail. "I keep seeing someone walk past the door," he said, "but whoever it is never appears in the window as they walk by." I hadn't told him about what I had seen until then.

I continuted to be annoyed intermittently for days until one afternoon when I was sitting with Corduroy Dog on our front porch. I looked up and saw a woman in white gliding more than walking down the sidewalk past our house. The image was very faint, I could clearly see the trees and the grass straight through her, but I could tell that she was dressed for a day of shopping that might have taken place 100 years ago. She had dark hair piled on top of her head, a narrow face, fitted dress with a high collar and a wide hat. When she reached a certain point on the sidewalk, she was gone.

All this time, I wasn't afraid or nervous, just curious about who this could be. It was then that I called her Myrtle. Apparently, a man and a woman named J. Carl and Myrtle Park lived in our little house between 1915 and 1956. Our house was built in 1910, so it could be someone entirely different, but I like to think it's Myrtle.

I've seen her several times since then, both in the daytime and at night, sometimes through the window and sometimes from the porch. She always does the same thing--walks to a certain point on the sidewalk and fades away. I suppose this will always be a mystery.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Swing Away! (Or, Swingles of the World Unite! Or, please get a clean plate when you return to the buffet.)

I have in my possession a photograph of a happy man. Perhaps he's happy because he just got a new bass boat. Perhaps he's relieved because he doesn't owe any taxes this year. Maybe, he just passed the bar exam. But, I think he's happy because he gets to spend time with the girl in the background of the same picture and no one actually expects him to marry her. I would very much like to show this picture to you because it is moderately funny, but the happy man in question does attend a church in our fair city and I don't know who is going to wander over here from the maelstrom that is Brian T. Murphy's Blog and see it. If he were from Massachusetts, I would have no such moral dilemma.

Perhaps you're involved in a singles group at church. If so, please consider this: Singles groups allow men to hang out with cute girls two, three, maybe even four nights a week. They don't have to try and coordinate their schedules. They don't have to bother calling these women to make plans. They don't have to pay for anything. The result is a virtual woman buffet for men who don't want to order off the menu. In the oft-quoted words of David Wooderson, "I get older, they stay the same age."

If you can't find the person in your singles group who could easily be maligned by the moniker "Mr. Creepy Man," change churches. It's you.

Yes. I,too, was once a Swingle. Can you read my mind? I'm wondering if this picture will be the visual representation of my greatest fear: that this is the sum and total of my life experience. The point of my life represented by this photograph was rather like peering down a well hoping to see China and instead finding a septic tank. I would like to point out that this photograph is five years old and how it appeared on this particular swingles website, I have no idea. You can imagine my surprise (albiet dismay) to have found it on the World Wide Intraweb.

Goodbye and good luck, Swingles Group.


You know what your problem is? (Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Or, how I learned to start telling everyone what to do.)

The fraternity moved out of the house next door and several oily, red-eyed, suburban, urban wannabees moved in. Apparently, they rolled out of cozy beds in their parents' Mountain Brook homes and decided to drive their Suburban, BMW, Land Rover and Volvo caravan (think safety!) down to the slums. Making a feeble attempt at friendliness, I asked one of them if he was our new neighbor. He said, "No, but I'm in the band." At that moment, I would have given at least $40 to have that fraternity move back in.

Recently, one of them left his custom-plated BMW unlocked with a guitar in the back seat. "You might want to lock your door," I suggested. "Well," he said, "I used to live down here and I'm not afraid." I think perhaps he missed the point. What I was really saying was "Lock your door so that people don't break in to my car as well." I think he had his backpack stolen a few days later.

It's probably time for me to give that back to him.

After our initial exchange,I, not knowing what this enigmatic "member of the band" was talking about and not really being able to read his lips because of the green cloud surrounding his head, looked at him in bewilderment and continued to dig in my flower bed. I, for possibly the first time in my life, was rendered speechless. Later, I said, "I'm not sure, but I think the remaining members of Phish moved in next door." I guess Trey won't be joining them.

Last week, they put a little flag on their porch with their band name on it. It irritates me, but that's probably because it's something I would do if I were cool (even in my own mind) and in a band. Even a lame one.

Did I mention they smoke a lot? If you're looking for a cheap thrill, come sit on our porch at about 4:20 some afternoon. Our dog has gained 5 pounds and I found myself wanting to eat a package of cold hotdogs yesterday.

And no, they aren't Moses Mayfield.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Don't Bother Looking...The View Ain't Much

"I just want to be good!"...me
"I wish you weren't so obsessed with being good!"...him

I imagine that leaping back into the blogosphere without a parachute isn't the wisest thing I could have done, but foolishly I leap preferring later to look.

I, like other Christians, swing on a pendulum between license and legalism. It's not a one-night-only show, either. It's a process. Knowing Jesus, I want to remove all that might separate us. I become obsessed with doing the right thing. Pushing myself beyond my limits, I fall crumpled to the side of the Narrow Road exhausted, defeated and disappointed. Here, Jesus finds me, sets me right, and gives me Himself. Inebriated with the thought that the destination can't be changed or hindered by my failures, I run recklessly along the path flinging wide the doors of depravity. Again I fall crumpled, exhausted, defeated and disappointed on the side of the road. Jesus comes to comfort, wash feet, set me right, and give me Himself. For a while, I travel joy-filled reliant only on His strength, His sacrifice to sustain me. But soon, I lose sight of that revealed hope and I rely on myself. Erase and rewind. Life in the spincycle resumes.

Wretched (wo)man that I am. Only He can rescue me from this body of death.


Airing Dirty Laundry

"Don't air your dirty laundry in public," the mother says.
"Never let them see you sweat," says the dad.

"Shoot," says the child through the kicked in teeth, "maybe y'all were right about that!"