Sunday, December 31, 2006

Witnessing a Bit of History

President Ford's family arrived in Washington yesterday for the lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, followed by the funeral service at Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday morning. Being someone who greatly appreciates the importance of historic events, I wanted my family to be a small part of the functions taking place over the next several days. In fact, this marked another unique opportunity for my daughter; she's not yet three years old and has already had the opportunity to witness the processions for two American presidents (Reagan in 2004, and Ford last evening).

My wife and daughter and I drove into Old Town Alexandria last night (where Ford lived for several years, including the time he was serving as Vice President) to watch the procession as it moved from Andrews Air Force Base into Washington, D.C. The crowd along the street in Alexandria -- while small -- was very respectful and very appreciative of his service and his place in history, and there was applause for President Ford and his family as the procession moved past. (The photo at right -- while of poor quality -- is one I took as the hearse passed where we were standing.)

I then went home, changed into a suit, and drove back into Washington to go through the Capitol viewing line (the first photo in this post is one of several that I took -- via camera phone -- while standing in line). I was amazed at how quickly we moved through -- I was actually through the line and back out in about two hours, which was a far cry from the 12 and 13 hours that many folks had to wait back in 2004. (I was much more fortunate during the Reagan visitation; since I was on staff in the House of Representatives at that time, I had access to a different entrance and only had about a 10-minute wait.) I enjoyed chatting with some folks from Iowa and Maryland who were standing in line with me, and it certainly made the wait go by much more quickly.

There's no way to adequately express what I was feeling as I moved through the rotunda -- the only sounds I could hear were the clicking of the camera shutters being manned by the bank of photographers back along one wall, and the subdued sounds of footsteps as people moved past the catafalque. Even though we were really only in the room for about a minute, it was more than enough time for me to soak in the history I was witnessing, something that has happened less than two-dozen times 1865. During my ten year career in the House, I was in the rotunda many times, but I haven't ever really noticed how beautiful and peaceful the place can truly be except during those rare occasions such as this where there are no tours and no chaos -- those times where you can really think and really reflect on the place, the history, and (in this case) the person. We then moved downstairs into the crypt, where we received memorial cards and had the opportunity to sign the guest books that had been placed there for the public. By the time I left the Capitol shortly before 11:00, I had been in line less than two hours -- and had already received a voice mail from my father telling me that he had seen me walk through as he was watching C-Span (these things are always special for Dad; he had driven up to Washington in 1963 from his home in Southwest Virginia and went through the viewing line during President Kennedy's lying in state).

I was dismayed to get up this morning and read in the Washington Post just how many officials didn't bother -- and that's my phrasing -- to come up for the funeral services last night. According to their story on VIP absentees, "President Bush sent his regrets; he was cutting cedar and riding his bike on his ranch in Texas. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his deputy, Richard Durbin, couldn't make it, either; they were on a trip to visit Incan ruins. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a pass, too -- as did nearly 500 of the 535 members of Congress. A 6-to-3 majority of the Supreme Court, including Ford's appointee, John Paul Stevens, ruled against attending. All the nation's governors were invited; few, if any, came. Apparently only two Cabinet members -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- accepted the invite." Bike riding? Inca ruins? I think it's absurd -- and I don't care if it's Republicans or Democrats. Gerald Ford was equally effective with folks from both sides of the aisle during his career, and it's sad to think that any show of gratitude or thanks for his life can be superceded by cutting down trees or scaling pyramids.

Aside from my frustration with the actions (or inaction, in this case) of so many high profile officials, it was nonetheless a memorable evening, one that I'm very proud my family took the time to observe. II hope that many, many more Americans take the opportunity during the next several days to express their thanks for President Ford's life and service, and to extend their prayers to Betty Ford and her family for strength and healing in the days ahead.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tagged - Six Surprises About Me.....

I've been tagged by both Julie and Susan to list five things that most people don't know about me. This was an interesting challenge and it took me a while to come up with them; let's see how this goes (I've actually got six):

1. Many folks know that I love history and literature, but many don't know just how early those loves developed. Although I touched on this very briefly in my posting on President Ford, a lot of people don't know that I watched the Watergate hearings religiously on television when I was just 3 and 4 years old -- and could point out and actually name Haldemann, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean, and a lot of the others at that young age. As far as the literature side, I sat with my father and watched a performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" on Masterpiece Theater in the hours just ahead of my 6th birthday party.

2. I collect autographed books and have built up a collection of nearly 100 of them over the years -- famous authors, presidents, secretaries of states, Pulitzer Prize winners, etc. It's an eclectic collection, ranging from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger t0 Charlton Heston and Donald Trump. I love the challenge of getting them, but even more than that, I look forward to having something of some value (both personal and monetary) that I can pass on to my daughters years down the road.

3. I'm a classical organ music afficianado, and attend concerts as often as I can in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area. I also have a sizeable collection of recordings, dating as far back as some of the old 78s that "Fats" Waller recorded in the early part of the 1900s.

4. I bartended for a few years in small college town (Radford) in Southwest Virginia -- and I certainly wouldn't have been confused for Tom Cruise's character in "Cocktail."

5. I was a contributor to (and interviewer for) George Plimpton's oral biography of Truman Capote that came out a few years ago; I've written two published articles on Alabama history; and I've been acknowledged or cited in a collection of Capote's letters and in a recent biography of Harper Lee.

6. I'm extremely sentimental and have a strong attachment to the people, places, and events of my past -- most good, some not so good, but all an important part of who I am.

I'll now tag Ipanema, Suzy, and Patchouli for this one.....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

He Was a Ford, Not a Lincoln

My parents have told me often over the years how, at age 3 and 4, I sat transfixed in front of the television and watched the broadcasts of the Watergate hearings. I'm not sure about the nation as a whole, but I'm sure that in the little town of Rustburg, Virginia, I was the only kid that young who could identify Haldemann, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean. (Before interjecting comments about my nerd level, just refer back a post or two and see that I only came in at a 34, so I'm not THAT bad.)

I have no recollection, however, of Nixon's resignation and Gerald Ford's move into the White House. In fact, my earliest memory of Ford was just prior to the 1976 election, when the kid's section of our local newspaper ran a story (written for my age level) about the Ford-Carter election. At that time, I thought Carter seemed more down-home and folksy, and I wanted him to win (while the nerd level hasn't changed, my political leanings have). It wasn't until later that I recognized how decent and unassuming a man Gerald Ford really was (the title of the post was taken from his famously self-depracating line, "I'm a Lincoln, Not a Ford". He never wanted to be president -- Speaker of the House was his highest ambition -- but he handled the task the best way he knew how; as the news programs have repeated constantly today, he was referred to as "The National Healer," and while his pardon of Nixon was met with outrage (and arguably contributed to his defeat in 1976), he truly did end the "cancer" of Watergate and move the nation forward. He never sought post-presidential fame, and was content simply sit on the occasional corporate boards, play golf, and spend time with his family.

Gerald Ford's passing has brought to a close the life of someone who truly did personify the "grand" in the Grand Old Party. In my opinion, it will be a long time -- if ever -- before we see another like him.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

You Need a License to Drive a Car; What About One for Pushing a Cart?

Well, I did make it out to finish my last-minute Christmas shopping this afternoon, and although the store was extremely crowded I was able to get in and out in pretty short order. While I didn't see anything that would warrant a lengthy diatribe on social behavior at Christmas, I did notice several things which lead me to believe that the rules of the road are left in the parking lot. A few examples:

1. When folks are outside the store, they're driving in America -- on the right side. However, when they cross the threshold of the store, they're magically transported to Great Britain or one of its colonies where it's permissible to drive on the left side of the road/aisle (and some customers actually act like it's their right to be on the wrong side of the "street").

2. In traditional highway situations, cars arriving at a four-way intersection proceed through the intersection in the order at which they arrive at the intersection. In shopping-land, carts arriving at a four-way intersection are all entitled to barrel through at the same time. To (somewhat) paraphrase Admiral David Farragut, "Damn the other carts! Full speed ahead!"

3. Under normal circumstances, folks driving down the highway wouldn't leave their car in the middle of traffic and run into a convenience store to grab something along the way. When shopping, however, it's okay to get in line (yes, right ahead of me) and then abandon the cart while running off through other parts of the store. And what happens when it's their turn? There's no horn on my shopping cart to honk -- and somehow my exasperated stares and under-my-breath mumblings just don't do the trick.

Naturally, there are some similarities between highway driving and store driving: crashed carts will often lead to anger and perhaps a gently-extended finger somewhere on the hand; lots of hit-and-run incidents where no insurance information is exchanged and -- oddly -- there are no witnesses, etc. etc.

Just a few thoughts from a Christmas shopping survivor!!!

How Nerdy Are You?

I've got time to kill today before I try and go out and finish my Christmas shopping, so I'm visiting some blogs and catching up on some older posts that I've missed. I found this on one, and decided to take the test. Sadly (or maybe I should be saying fortunately!), my results put me at "Not Nerdy, But Definitely Not Hip." What about you?

(I'll put some more mentally challenging topics on the blog later today -- finishing my shopping should provide me with some good social commentary.....)

I am nerdier than 34% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The End of an Era

It still hasn't quite sunk in yet, but today marked the end of a decade of working in the U.S. House of Representatives. In many ways, this hadn't come as a surprise -- I had been looking for a new job for several months, one that would boost my salary while not requiring me to work 12- and 13-hour days that were so prevalent at regular intervals throughout the year. With a three-year-old daughter and a wife pregnant with a second child, a job with those hours just wouldn't have been fair to anyone.

However, what was unexpected was the fact that, immediately after election day, I found myself as one of the hundreds of "collateral casualties" resulting from the switch in power from Republicans to Democrats. Many members of my family who are Democrats called to gently rub in the massive GOP losses on November 7, only to find out that I got voted out of office along with many of the members of the House. I certainly don't hold that against them though; in fact, my youngest sister voted for the first time this year, and I can only be proud of the fact that she educated herself about the candidates and issues in her area and went out to cast her ballot.

It's certainly been a great ten years. I've had the honor of working with some phenomenal staff members during that time, but more than that, I've been employed by three of the best Members imaginable: Sonny Callahan (Alabama), who first took me on as an intern in 1996 and then (in his own inimitable way) jokingly told folks that he hired me as his field representative one year later because I just wouldn't go away; Jo Bonner (also of Alabama), who gave me a great opportunity to be his press secretary in the heart of the action on Capitol Hill (and to try to fill the big shoes he left behind when he was Sonny's press secretary); and Jim Nussle (Iowa), who brought me on board to give me the chance to work for one of best committees in Congress. I learned more than I would have ever thought possible from each of these men, and I will certainly carry many of these lessons into the next phase of my life.

My last few days on the Hill were really bittersweet, a time when I could roam around some of the offices and visit with old friends to say goodbye. I also took the time to wander through the Capitol one last time and soak in the history and wonder of that magnificent building. I've been around it and in it for so many times that I really took for granted the fact that I'm one of the privileged few who could walk over there whenever I wanted and just look around. At the end, when I realized when my time on staff was at an end, I just had to go through one more time. How often do each of us go through life -- with places, with family and friends, with jobs, with just about anything -- taking so much for granted, and not realizing what we have in front of us until it's too late. It is a powerful lesson indeed -- NEVER take your time here for granted.

The next phase represents the great unknown in my life, however. I'm so much of a Type A personality that I always like to have everything planned out in advance and know pretty much how things are going to work. In this, I don't; I've had some very successful interviews and have progressed well into the hiring process at several firms, but there's still no solid answer on where I'll be hanging my hat in the new year. I keep reminding myself that God will put me where I need to be when I need to be there -- and I'm sure he's getting quite a chuckle that I'm insisting on continuing to try putting Him on MY timetable, rather than surrenduring myself to his schedule.

I can certainly use the next week after Christmas (a nice period of down-time before my next round of interviews) to reflect on the changes in my life, and to think about many of my friends and coworkers find themselves in a similar position. God has plans for each of them, too; I just hope they are aware of that and carry that knowledge with them from one day to the next.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What Book Do YOU Have at Hand?

Karen over at The Sword's Still Out ran across a fun little exercise on another blog, and she decided to play along. The rules for this game as posted are:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

After seeing, I decided to play along, too. I never really noticed the eclectic collection of books I have near me at any one time until I did this.....

Scott was already in Europe when Ernest embarked from New York. He and Zelda had crossed on the Conte Biancamano in March, landing in Genoa and working their way across the Riviera before going to Paris. As in 1924, the Fitzgeralds hoped that a change in scenery might alter the disturbing rhythm of their stateside lives. At Ellerslie Zelda had become increasingly obsessive about the ballet, forever practicing before a mirror to "The March of the Toy Soldiers." -- Scott Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Tag -- You're It!

My blog friend Ipanema tagged me to participate in a little holiday game, where you list (at least) five of your favorite Christmas songs -- and then tag (at least) five other of your blog friends to do the same on their sites. If I haven't tagged you, but you would still like to list your favorites, please do.

First, my favorites:

1. The Harry Simeone Chorale's performance of "The Little Drummer Boy." There's something about this song that I've loved my entire life; perhaps it dates back to hearing my parents play the recording of it from their Reader's Digest collection of great Christmas songs.

2. Not really a carol per se, but I love any recording of "The Virgin Slumber Song," a piece written by the late-19th/early-20th century German composer Max Reger. I love this song so much, in fact, that I convinced my wife to allow a friend to perform it at our December wedding ten years ago. You can listen to a small sample of it here -- just click the link next to it in the album summary.

3. "Coventry Carol," a beautiful 16th-century English piece. Again, click the song's link here.

4. "O Little Town of Bethlehem," particulary when it's being sung at a midnight Christmas Eve service in the cold air by just the choir and congregation, with no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever.

5. Nat King Cole's rendition of "The Christmas Song."

And now, my tagged friends:

Julie, of Julie Unplugged;

Dave, of Pomoxian;

Karen, of The Sword's Still Out;

Patchouli, of Patchouli Ponderings; and

Trace, of Tracing My Steps.

Have fun with this, and Merry (early) Christmas!

Monday, November 27, 2006

If You Can't Go to Linus, Bring Linus to You

Okay, after posting my list yesterday, I decided I couldn't wait for network executives to decide when Linus should explain the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown -- so I found it myself. Today's posting marks a tough comparison -- what Christmas should be and what Christmas has become.

Classic Christmas

Modern Christmas (a little funny, but quite sad, if you think about it)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Signs of Christmas

As I've gotten older, I've found that there are some tried and true ways of confirming that the Christmas holiday season -- my favorite time of the year -- is underway. Here is a list of some of my favorites (I'm sure I'll think of others to add as the season progresses); oddly, some of the signs seem to make their first appearance earlier and earlier.....

1. Going to get my monthly haircut and hearing an Andy Williams Christmas carol playing on the shop's radio -- almost 10 days before Thanksgiving!!

2. Flipping through the television channels on another job hunt-induced sleepless night and finding that QVC and HSN already have their Christmas trees up and the studios fully decorated -- in October!!

3. My daughter excitedly saying that she wants to go to see Santa Claus and give him the full list of Dora the Explorer merchandise that she wants -- only to have her stiffen up in horror and start screaming as we take her, dressed up in one of her finest outfits, to go sit in his lap. If there was any consolation to this year's trip, it's that it wasn't on Black Friday, and the line to see (a.k.a. flee from) Saint Nick was mercifully short.

4. Seeing the first carton of eggnog on the store shelves -- a feeling surpassed only by that first, sweet sip poured from the first carton you're actually holding in your hands.

5. Feeling that wonderful crispness in the air and immediately flashing back to countless Christmases from childhood -- the sights, the sounds, the excitement -- and now seeing that same excitement in the face of my daughter (provided, of course, that Santa isn't lurking close by).

6. Flipping through the television channels (not necessarily on a job hunt-induced sleepless night) to see if TBS is running their 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story."

7. Counting down the days until Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown.

8. Deciding when to buy the Christmas tree, whether it should be artificial or live (we're opting for the real thing this year), and whether it should be pine (my wife) or cedar (me). I haven't won that argument yet -- wonderful cedar tree stories from my childhood notwithstanding.

More than anything else, entering the season in the church's liturgical calendar where all the Biblical stories and signs point to the coming birth!

Any additions you may have are certainly welcome!!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In Advance of Thanksgiving.....

Here's a very nice editorial from the Christian Science Monitor which appeared in yesterday's online edition. Yes, we as a country have so much more we can -- and need to -- do here and abroad, but this is a good reminder to look at the bigger picture on this Thanksgiving holiday.
Enlarging the Thanksgiving table
The Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 2006

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uncounted atrocities in Darfur, threats brewing in Iran and North Korea. Much of the news around the world reveals little for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving. But that's never the whole picture.

It takes a fresh viewpoint, a different, more complete way of thinking to not let these calamities obscure our vision. We need to use a wide-angle lens to capture a picture that includes much goodness.

"[W]e are actually made for goodness," Desmond Tutu recently told the Dallas Morning News.

"We are so, I think, overwhelmed," added South Africa's archbishop emeritus, who has seen more than his share of great suffering - but also great healing and reconciliation - in his country.

"The media tend to inundate us with rather unpleasant news. We have the impression that evil is on the rampage, is about to take over the world," he says. "We need to keep being reminded that there is a great deal of good happening in the world."

Ultimately, he says, good does prevail. "[C]ontrary to all appearances, we are in fact made for harmony," he says. "We are made for togetherness. Ultimately, we are really family."

As family, friends, and even strangers gather around the Thanksgiving table, taking account of good may not be quite so hard if minds are set to it. For example, no acts of terrorism have occurred on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Isn't that worth gratitude? In fact, British police disrupted an alleged plot to blow up planes on their way to the US.

Americans can be grateful that they continue to be a generous people. Charitable donations rose 6 percent last year to $260 billion. Warren Buffett led the way when he announced in June that he would give away nearly his entire fortune, some $37 billion, reportedly the largest single charitable donation in US history.

Economic security also looks to be improving. Americans on average will earn about 4 percent more this year than last. With inflation low, that's the first real gain in years. (And remember that gasoline prices have retreated by one-third since last summer.)

For most people, gratitude begins even closer to home. They're grateful for simple joys: gazing into the inky beauty of a silent, starry night or delighting at the smell of pies in the oven. Most treasured are family and friends, near and dear. This newspaper has its own reason for special thanks in remembering Iraq correspondent Jill Carroll's release from her kidnappers unharmed last March.

Thanksgiving tables can be enlarged every year by embracing the whole human family in prayer. Americans can set a special place in their hearts, too, for US troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere overseas.

Keeping that often-mentioned "attitude of gratitude" can lead the way toward meeting life's challenges.

Take the experience of one hurricane Katrina survivor, who was displaced from her home last year.

"I think we have a nice future ahead," Deanna Misko told the Mississippi Sun Herald recently. She's grateful that her daughter "is being a big girl, being patient. She knows we'll get a house soon."

That expectation of good to come should inspire all Americans as they give thanks at their tables this year.

Response from the Presiding Bishop

Following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the newest presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, several dioceses announced their intent to request "alternative primatial oversight" from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Others have gone a step further, announcing that they would be leaving the church altogether and aligning with other Anglican communions -- particularly the 9-million member Anglican Church of Uganda. The bishop has made clear her feelings of sadness over the course the Episcopal church has taken in recent years -- with schism continuing to be a very real possibility -- and I was curious to see how she would begin to address the bishops who were seeking other oversight or a move out of the church altogether.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, California, is one that has drawn a great deal of attention during this time, as it was one of the earliest to announce its intention of joining with the Ugandan communion. In the short term, it will be a painful split, and will undoubtedly result in a great deal of pain and a great deal of anger for thousands of California Episcopalians; in the long term, there will be long and difficult court cases over the ownership of church property and funds. I've been curious as to how the presiding bishop would address this issue -- and this letter that she just sent to the bishop of San Joaquin I think makes clear that -- as a pastor -- she will continue to seek a reconciliation for the church. However, as an administrator with responsibilities to the whole Episcopal church, she gives no sign of backing down from the fight.

"San Joaquin bishop sent letter from presiding bishop" -- Episcopal News Service, November 20, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Diversity: What Do We Do With It?

A column in the most recent issue of The Living Church (a publication about the Episcopal Church), written by the Rev. Steven Ford, touched on the theme of diversity within our denomination. The first and last paragraphs follow:

"A recent author has suggested that the current fashion of describing Anglicanism as a community of shared faith is totally off the mark. Rather, he believes, we're a motley collection of eccentrics who share a common taste for pageantry and theater. Until we accept and celebrate that, he concludes, we'll never be in tune with reality (John Glatt, For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy who Kill [St. Martin's Press, 1998]).

"In the end, we Anglicans really are a collection of vastly different individuals. We came to the Church by following our own personal paths, and we take from the Church what each of us specifically needs. So a McDonald's model will never work for Episcopalians. We're a bit more like Burger King, I think, whose motto is 'Have It Your Way.' Maybe an even better motto for us is that of the USA TV network: 'Characters Welcome!'"

My question for the day: folks certainly recognize the diversity in our church, but when will they reach a point where they not only accept that diversity, but embrace it? The more diverse the church becomes, the more antiquated it seems factions of it become in their methods of dealing with that diversity. Food for thought.....

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What Can a Layman Do?

Now that Katharine Jefferst Schori has been seated as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the tone of recent comments regarding her and the direction of the church really hasn't changed much. Although many folks -- from the rectors of individual parishes to the Archbishop of Canterbury -- continue to speak of reconciliation, there are still some pretty venemous quotes being thrown out in the media (which, sadly, seems to be the default arena in which to wage war over religion, politics, and just about anything else).

One comment I read today struck me as particulary distressing, since it was spoken by the director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. (Sidebar -- politics AND religion in the same name of an organization? End sidebar.) According to Jim Tonkowich with IRD, "'The new Presiding Bishop’s embrace of universalist language and progressive policies like gay ordination proved unsuccessful at attracting Nevada’s booming population. There is little indication they will meet with warmer reception nationwide.'

"IRD’s Anglican Action Director, Ralph Webb, commented: 'While the bishop is meant to be a symbol of unity for the entire church, Bishop Jefferts Schori has continually made comments that make orthodox Anglicans feel less and less a part of TEC.'

"He added that her controversial comments concerning ‘Mother Jesus’ and her conviction that Jesus Christ is only one of many ways to salvation, as well as her use of progressive social justice terminology in communicating her vision of the mission of the church has 'not helped heal a rapidly splintering church.'

"The TEC 'is bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted wound that has spread to impact the Anglican Communion worldwide,' he warned."

Okay, fine -- this group, just like many others, has identified the obvious problem. And again, like so many others, they focus on the problem rather than on offering ways to mend fences and bring the communion back together. The idea of keeping the church whole has been on my mind a great deal lately, as have questions about what I as a layman can do to help things along. I decided I would e-mail my questions to someone who knows more about reconciliation than just about anyone alive -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Not only did Tutu survive the horrors of apartheid in South Africa and help to foster a new life and a new national identity for that country, he also chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought those responsible for apartheid forward to acknowledge their part in the old regime. I found his response to me both fascinating and inspiring.....

My original e-mail:

Dear Archbishop Tutu:

I know that you have devoted a great deal of your life to the concept of reconciliation, and I wanted to take a moment to share a concern I have about the direction of our church. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I remember (with a clearer memory of some more than others) some of the more important changes in the Church in the past three decades -- the ordination of women, and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests, among others. Regardless of the circumstances, it seemed that the larger faith community was strong and unified enough to survive the challenges these actions presented.

However, with the consecration of Gene Robinson (an action which I supported) and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as our next presiding bishop, it seems that we are now headed down a path which must almost certainly end with a sizeable division in the Anglican communion.

I am currently going through the discernment process for possible entrance into the seminary myself, and I know that -- should my own path lead me there -- I will be in a position where I must more directly address these challenges. However, as a father of a small daughter (with a second on the way in February), I am concerned about the type of church my children will inherit -- and I am struggling to find what I as a layman can do now to help with reconciliation in the church that I love.

Along with dialogue with individual members of my faith community, do you have any suggestions on what I can do in my role as a congregant at Christ Church to ensure that the Episcopal church my daughters inherit is as strong and inclusive as possible?

Again, my thanks for taking the time to consider my comments. Please know that you have my family's continuing prayers for improved health and for many more years of sharing your wonderful gifts, insight, and faith with the world.

And his response:

Dear friend,

Please forgive me for my dilatoriness. I’ve been celebrating my 75th and enjoying very much being spoiled.

Yes our Anglican communion not just your episcopal Church faces some difficult times. We used to boast that the most distinctive thing about us was our comprehensiveness, that our church was wide enough to accommodate the widest range of diverse views. Now we seem to have grown impatient and far more eager to excommunicate one another than to say even though we may differ even fundamentally we belong in the same family. It is so sad that our Church should be obsessed with this particular issue when God’s children out there are being devastated by poverty, disease, corruption and conflict. God must be weeping.

But we should also remember it is God’s church which has survived some turbulent times ... just think of the controversies right from the beginning of its life; eg should Gentiles be circumcised? Is Jesus really and truly God or a super human? So we have been there and pulled back from the abyss. There is no reason to think we are terminal now.

So your role is to be a good disciple of our Lord seeking to reflect the character of your Lord and Master being Jesus in this and every situation, and remembering that everyone even your worst adversary is in fact precious in God’s sight, for they too are God’s beloved children.

God bless you and yours even the one to be,

+Desmond Tutu.

Friday, November 10, 2006

God's Gonna Cut You Down

There's lots I want to write about in the coming days, and I'm still gathering my thoughts on all of that -- more in the creative front shortly. In the meantime, I heard a new song in the past few days that I think is well worth sharing.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best Johnny Cash songs ever -- and the multitude of celebrities appearing in this video (most of whom I like, some of whom I couldn't care less about) make it even more interesting. Definitely a great tribute to an incredible artist.....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gimmicky Religion

While going through my usual blog-browsing, I ran across this article posted over on Patchouli Ponderings -- "Real Men Talk About God." It certainly made for quite an interesting read, and in a way it was a big shock to me. When did we have to start resorting to gimmicks to attract people to church?

As I posted on Patchouli, and as regular readers here are aware, I am a cradle Episcopalian, and have spent my entire life seeking out and worshipping in very traditional ("Anglican") settings. As I've gotten older, I have opened my mind up to some new areas and styles of worship -- not for permanent change, but just to see what else is out there -- but I have to admit that what I read in this column isn't really something that I have looked for (or honestly expected to find if I was looking). There's no doubt in my mind that a man can be a faithful and active Christian, a good husband, and a good father without having to go out and burn loads of testosterone and act like a fool (stunts a la "Jackass?").

The whole point of this blog -- as was my original intent, and as I've posted in the introductory paragraph -- is to discover how to be a better Christian, father, and husband. I don't think kung-fu, rap music, and a flashy light show are the way for me to do it. Can't say that I would ever attend one of these events.

Give this article a read -- I'm curious to see what others have to say.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is It November Already?

It's the first day of November -- just two months left in a year that seems to have gone by impossibly fast. This is one of my favorite times of the year -- the cool, crisp air; the changing leaves (although I can do without the nearly incessant raking); and the sights and sounds of the rapidly approaching holiday season. I spend the entire year waiting for this great time, and yet I always seem to let it go by without enjoying it nearly as much as I can; in fact, I go into November and December recalling the wonderful memories of my childhood that took place in the late fall and winter, and hoping that -- perhaps once -- I can experience just one little sound or sight or smell that will bring it all back anew.

I think with a little girl who's really getting to the age where she, too, can enjoy this time of the year, it will allow me to see things in a whole new way: through HER eyes and ears.....

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Forgotten Founders

Julie over at Julie Unplugged has written another of her great UPI religion and spirituality columns. We all tend to celebrate the achievements of those men and women who founded this country and built it into what it is today; however, even in 2006, we tend to overlook the sacrifices made by those who arrived in this country enslaved -- and the tremendous struggles they and several generations of descendants were forced to endure. Julie eloquently touches on this subject in her column, "Every drop of blood drawn with the lash," and I hope you'll read what she has to say.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A God-Sanctioned Nation

Recently, I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on the manner in which we in this country (and I would assume in other countries as well, to some extent, base their actions on the assertion that it was in some way ordained or sanctioned by God. Two comments which I recently read and heard prompted this line of thought.

First, in the preface to his book, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow wrote: "The task is to treat the nation within the tradition of biblical politics -- to understand America biblically -- not the other way around, not (to put it in an appropriately awkward way) to construe the Bible Americanly. There has been too much of the latter in this country's public life and religious ethos. There still is. I expect such indulgences to multiply, to reach larger absurdities, to become more scandalous, to increase blasphemously as America's crisis as a nation distends. To interpret the Bible for the convenience of America, as apropos as that may seem to be to any Americans, represents a radical violence to both the character and content of the Biblical message. It fosters a fatal vanity that America is a divinely favored nation and makes of it the credo of a civic religion which is directly threatened by, and, hence, which is anxious and hostile to the biblical Word."

The second came from a lecture presented by Madeleine Albright at Virginia Theological Seminary (which I touched on in an earlier post), where she said, "Ever since 9/11, President Bush has said -- to his credit -- that we are at war with terrorism and not with Islam. But he has also said that our nation has a responsibility to history to 'rid the world of evil' -- a tough job for mortals to do. He has echoed the words of Jesus in saying to other countries, 'You are either with us or against us.' When Saddam Hussein was captured, he said that America was delivering God's gift of freedom to the Iraqi people. Even before his election, he told friends that, 'I believe God wants me to be president.' And in his second inaugural address, he said that America has a calling from beyond the stars 'to proclaim liberty throughout the world and to all the inhabitants thereof.' In the Bible, God gave the same job, in the same words, to Moses. The problem with this approach is not that it expresses leadership in moral terms, because that is often essential. The problem is that it comes close to equating the policies of the United States with the will of God."

So, after reading these two passages, beginning with Stringfellow, it becomes apparent that the growing attitude of a nation whose actions are sanctioned byGod was recognized at least as far back as the 1970s. There are perhaps many examples even further back in history of this feeling which I haven't yet considered. The two questions which this prompted are: 1) to what extent do we (should we?) agree with Stringfellow and Albright, and 2) at what point in U.S. history do did this attitude begin? While I am a Republican (although not one who identifies himself as a member of the religious right), I'm finding that this is another example of the conflict I'm starting to feel within myself as I go through my discernment process -- my political side no longer agrees with my faith side. I have posed these questions on some other lists and have received some intriguing responses to consider. I have found their input very thought-provoking, and -- with their permission, but without revealing their authors, let me post some of their comments:

First: "I think that all that gives a pretty vivid picture of how mixed up and misguided the application of Christian religion to government policy has become in this country. And as much as I might (and do) fault leaders like Bush who I think ought to know better and are willfully using this approach to win support and create ideological cover for what often should be regarded as crimes on a massive scale, I have to acknowledge that the main reason he has the kind of power that he does is that our citizens have allowed it to happen. The conflation of Christianity and Americanism is a very popular view of the world, regardless of how much violence or exploitation is conducted under its aegis. I would not have a problem with the kind of rhetoric that Bush used about ridding the world of evil or proclaiming liberty if there was much evidence of sincerity or credibility behind the man's subsequent actions. Instead though, his administration has become about as supreme an embodiment of Orwellian double-speak as I can imagine, leaving me wondering honestly just what to make of the motives of people who put such innoccuous sounding labels on efforts that turn out to be so destructive. My answers to your two questions are that 1) I agree with the Stringfellow and Albright quotes and 2) I think this strain of thought, sanctifying aggressive policies, land grabs, conquest, etc. goes back to the earliest stages of American history. It's just become more audacious and potentially destructive as US power and influence have increased and those in charge have perfected their skill at 'manufacturing consent' and playing to the prejudices of their constituents in order to maintain their position of advantage."

Second: (The use of the ellipses here are from the original response and not my own.) "While I am not opposed to mixing religion and politics...or...using the Bible or Christian/history/tradition to 'help' inform or guide us politically I am not particularly confident these days 'how' one might 'understand America biblically' or avoid 'construing the Bible Americanly'....regarding the former....Over the years a significant number of Christians have repeatedly attempted to examine, critique, and offer a Christian alternative to the current secular political perspective but, imo, their alternatives, more often than not, sounds much the same as the political perspectives of either the left or the right...which...begs the question....why?...Shouldn't a Christian perspective be much different?...Regarding the latter...Not sure how much we or anyone can distance themselves from the culture they find themselves in...I raise this question because Christians, imo, have to a large degree integrated their religion to the surrounding culture, more than they would like to admit. Augustine/Plato...Aquinas/ modern times....Fundamentalism/Modernity....and....Emergent/Postmodernism....Not asserting that Christians have sold out or uncritically integrated their Christian suggesting it is a very difficult challenge....sorry if this sounds too pessimistic because I sense that you are personally grappling with some important questions and looking for some real answers to the current political mess our country appears to be going through at this time....bottom line....from my perspective...The Bible, Christian tradition, and current Christian thinkers who spend a great deal of time thinking about such matters can be helpful but I don't think we can 'systematically' arrive at some kind of Christian perspective that is not tainted by our culture or is 'Biblical based'....and....beware of those who 'assert' they have a biblically based political perspective or claim God is on their side..."

This is indeed something I'm grappling with, and I think that it is a very valuable discussion that should be held. I would most certainly appreciate the additional comments of any of you who may wish to do so.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Wheels are Starting to Turn

Now that I've been "off" vacation for four days now (and have had a much busier week at work than I was expecting), I can feel the little gray cells (as they were dubbed by Hercule Poirot) starting to churn out something remotely resembling coherent thought. I've got a rather lengthy post on religion and government that I've been mulling over for a bit that I'm going to tackle in the next few days -- stay tuned!

In the meantime, I found a remarkable quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, taken from his acceptance speech following receipt of the Marymount University Ethics Award in 2004:

"Anyone who has a modicum of theology will know that no one is ordinary. Everyone is quite extraordinary... For what is a leader in any case without followers? And so I usually say if you stand out in a crowd, it is really because you are being carried on the shoulders of others.."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

And the Music Keeps on Coming.....

Since entering the second week of my vacation, my mind seems to have shut down a bit, and I can't come up with anything to discuss. Naturally, my family would find that hard to believe: the son/brother who used to get notes sent home from school all the time for talking when I wasn't supposed to can't find anything to say?

Apparently not. However, the music keeps on coming -- another video from one of my favorite vocal groups, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Very inspiring, and -- to me, for some unexplainable reason -- very humbling.

I do intend to get back to some creative thought at some point (probably when vacation ends and my return to work requires increased brain power!). For now, enjoy the sounds.....

Monday, October 16, 2006

In an Irish Mood

Something about the weather today put me in an Irish mood -- so I've spent a big chunk of the day up to this point listening to Enya. Here are two of my favorites, "Orinoco Flow" and "Boadicea." Enjoy.....

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back from Bermuda

After a wonderful five-day cruise from Baltimore to Bermuda and back with my wife, it was back to the real world today (and into the arms of our little girl, who squealed and ran up to us as we came through the door screaming, "Mommy! Daddy!") -- although, as I told Dave over at Pomoxian in his posting today about snow up in his neck of the woods, I can't say I was too disappointed to walk back into cold weather.

If you've never been to Bermuda, I would certainly recommend you make the trip -- it is a truly wonderful island. One of the nice things about the five-day cruise we took with Royal Caribbean is that you actually overnight at your port-of-call, so you have more time to explore than you would on a typical cruise where it's in and out of the port in six or seven hours before moving on to the next stop. The ship we were on, the Grandeur of the Seas, tied up in King's Wharf (pictured above) on the far western end of the island and stayed there for two days, enabling us to really get out on the ground and explore Bermuda. A bulk of our time was spent in the towns of St. George (at the opposite end of island from King's Wharf) and Hamilton (the capital of Bermuda, closer to King's Wharf). Both towns have a great deal to offer to folks, but my wife and I pretty much agreed that we preferred St. George over Hamilton. No matter where we traveled, however, one thing remained constant: Bermudians are among the friendliest and most outgoing folks you will ever meet.

St. George is a very old and charming town with many narrow streets (such as the three pictured above), a majority of which are the same brick and cobblestone lanes that have been there for years. It is a much more laid-back community of quiet shops, restaurants, and homes, and it boasts the oldest continous Anglican congregation in the western hemisphere, St. Peter's Church. There is some wonderful architecture in the community, including a beautiful old (and unfinished) Gothic-style church (below) that was never completed because of a split in the congregation in the late 1870s. (After seeing this building, my wife said two things came to mind: one, that it would make a beautiful setting for a candlelight wedding, and two, that she could see those same candles being used in some sort of Goth ceremony at midnight!) For me, this is one of those areas where I could go and hide for weeks and never get tired of the simple, small-town surroundings and the wonderful shops and restaurants.

Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, is a much more commercial city with modern buildings, lots of traffic, and lots of noise (although by comparison to large American cities, Hamilton isn't that big -- the entire population of Bermuda is only about 57,000). We discovered that there are regulations in place that limit every family on the island to ownership of only one car, and as a result you see nearly everyone -- from kids to corporate executives in their suit jackets and Bermuda shorts -- riding around on scooters (which, as we also discovered, is also much more economical, since gas is currently selling for about $7 per gallon).

There is a sizeable shopping district on Front Street in Hamilton, down on the waterfront (first below), but not being a huge fan of shopping, I really didn't get into the whole thing. I was more interested in seeing the Bermuda parliament (which was not in session at the time, but which meets in the Sessions House, second below) and the old Anglican Cathedral (yes, there is a theme with me and touring beautiful old churches; last below).

There is absolutely no way that anyone could, in just two days -- or even five days -- could do Bermuda justice; you would need to be there for quite some time to truly take it all in. I know that I certainly haven't done the island nearly enough justice with these photos and the briefest of descriptions of only two of the towns. Post any questions that you may have, and I will certainly try and do my best to answer them.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Little Break

I just wanted to leave a short post letting everyone know that my wife and I are headed to Bermuda tomorrow for a week, and so I won't be around to post anything new. This should be a great trip for us, and probably the last that we will be able to take sans children, particularly with our second little one on the way in February.

I'm looking forward to a week of good sleep, good books, good drinks, good food, good sights, and lots of relaxation. Hope everyone has a great next seven days, and I will definitely pop by everyone's blog to say hello when we return!!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A New Twist on an Old Story

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of folks who take classic films and remake them -- ad nauseum -- every 20 years or so (King Kong, Poseidon Adventure, etc. etc.). However, every so often, one comes along that just grabs your heart and takes you for a magical ride -- and with that in mind, I present this beautiful remake of a Stephen King classic.

Enjoy the laugh!!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Fully Operational!

Nothing important to discuss today (in fact, with the nation's capital currently imploding, I'm avoiding trying to do any serious thinking after I leave my office on the Hill). I'm just celebrating the fact that our new computer has arrived and I am again fully 'net operational -- well, that, and my impending departure (along with my wife) for Bermuda this coming Sunday for a well-deserved vacation.

More postings to come in the next few days, and then again after my trip.....

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sanctioned Book Buying!!

The location: the National Mall, Washington, D.C.

The event: the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival. 70 of the most well-respected and widely-read authors, poets, illustrators, and historians, all gathered in one confined area for hours of book-signings and readings -- pure nirvana for book lovers like myself.

It's also one of the rare occasions where book buying is an acceptable indulgence (a.k.a. I can buy books and the missus won't really mind; in fact, she bought some today). I can say that there's nothing more interesting that watching the tens of thousands of folks who come out for this event, lugging their briefcases, suitcases, shopping backs, or purses -- just about anything in which to carry one, two, or ten books -- and the authors that they are so intent on meeting and getting a quick scribbling from. At the same time, you meet some really interesting folks while you're waiting in line for your face time with the author of the moment (today, I waited for signatures from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Remini, and Bob Woodward) and learn a little of what drives their love of books and literature.

It was another great event, although I wasn't able to attend any of the lectures for all of my time in line (the schedule was arranged so that no sooner had I gotten one book signed than I dashed off to get into another line). My wife and daughter spent some quality time with Elmo and about 500 of his friends, enjoyed arts and crafts in the PBS tent, and spent time in line waiting to meet Clifford the Big Red Dog -- only to have the little one curl up in a scared little ball when she realized that Clifford wasn't little like on TV, but rather close to 7 feet tall!

I have to say the biggest disappointment was probably Woodward, although I was glad to get a signed book. He arrived 20 minutes late for his hour-long signing, left before even a quarter of the hundreds who had lined up to see him had a chance to get their books signed, and then held court in a 40-minute moderated discussion in which he couldn't talk about his latest book on the Bush Administration (because of an arrangement with "60 Minutes") -- much to the chagrin of the folks who came because of that specific topic. A friend of mine and I who had gone to hear his lecture gave up and left after about 10 minutes because the crowd in the tent was so large, and the speakers were turned in such a bad direction, that no one could hear him. He was surrounded by nearly a dozen private security officers and mounted police officers as he traveled around the Mall, and really never struck me as being happy to be there with folks who appreciated his writing (in fact, I thought he looked bored with the whole thing as I went through the line, and I only saw him smile the first time as he was leaving after his talk).

The whole day was an overall success and a great joy for me, and I would highly recommend that any of you who might be in D.C. at the end of next September pay a visit to this event. It would make the heart of any book-lover skip a beat.

Friday, September 29, 2006


There's no particular reason for posting this today, other than it's something that's most definitely worth posting. One of Sting's all-time best.....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Word of God, The Word IS God

In browsing through the many great blogs I read on a regular basis, I came across the latest UPI column from Julie that she has posted on her site. Julie is an amazing individual who shares freely and willingly some of the remarkable episodes from her journey through life -- a life as a wife, mother, business owner, homeschool teacher, and graduate student. It's a real treat visiting her site, and I would encourage you all to drop by for a visit whenever possible.

This column, entitled "A Word-Slinger Writes God," is about the impact of the word of God on her life's journey. It definitely will leave you with a great deal to think about.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

News from My House

Well, I haven't had much time at all to post lately, but did want to make mention of some exciting news that our family got today. We've known for a while that child number two is going to be joining the household in February, but it wasn't until today that we found out what it will be: a second daughter!! That's two little girls who will be running around the house (my wife has already warned me about all of the high school hormones that are going to hit poor daddy at once), and -- for those who know my family and may be keeping track -- that's going to be six granddaughters for my parents.

We're all very happy and excited that things are looking good for her, and are looking forward to a healthy little girl in February. If there is any one thing that's a disappointment, it's probably that my first daughter is not getting the dinosaur that she thought she'd be getting when she saw the last ultrasound image.

In the long run, though, I really do think she'll prefer a little sister to follow in her footsteps and look up to her -- rather than a tyrannosaurus chasing in her footsteps!!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Conversation with Madeleine Albright

Okay, well it wasn't really a conversation -- that would imply 1) that it was just the two of us chatting (there were about 500 of us), and 2) that I actually got to chat with her (outside of the brief time in the book signing line, I wasn't able to say much). It was very reminiscent of when I attended a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Mobile, Alabama, years ago, and Secretary Albright was the keynote speaker; I called my father to say that I was having lunch with the Secretary of State -- followed up by, "Well, actually, Secretary Albright is having lunch with me and about 700 other people."

I plan on discussing her lecture in greater length in the near future (it was extremely fascinating, and I agreed with a great deal of what she had to say -- which is remarkable, given my political affiliation!!), but for the time being will post this photo.....

Friday, September 08, 2006

Five Years Later

Even now, five years later, I still find myself dwelling on it -- trying to imagine what it felt like the moment they realized they wouldn't be going home.

I remember on 9-11 watching the images of the planes slamming into the World Trade Center, the wreckage of the planes in Waashington in Pennsylvania, and the sound of the towers as they fell in on themselves. I remember the frustration at trying to reach friends who lived in midtown Manhattan to make sure they were alright. And I remember the total, utter silence at the downtown Mobile bar where friends had gathered to watch the President's speech that night -- a bar that at any other time would have been a loud jumble of the sounds of the jukebox, pool tables, and beer bottles.

That whole day, and during the days and weeks that followed, I -- and millions of other people -- watched the events of 9-11 as folks on the outside looking in. But not once in those first hours did I ever try -- I couldn't try -- to see what had happened from the inside looking out. There was something that I knew would tear at me if I tried to put myself in the place of the men and women who knew they weren't going to see their families and friends again.

Even with the fifth anniversary of 9-11 just a few days away, and even with the release in recent months of transcripts and recordings of many off the emergency calls made that day, I still couldn't do -- couldn't make myself think of how I would handle that situation. And then today, while visiting The Questioning Christian, I read a recent column by Peggy Noonan, "I Just Called to Say I Love You."

And suddenly, the feelings that I couldn't and wouldn't comprehend for these few years were there. I saw myself as one of the young fathers and husbands in New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania -- a father who had kissed his wife and child goodbye thinking he would see them again in a few hours or at the end of the business trip. A father who really loves -- but still, somehow, often takes for granted that I will always get -- the excited hugs from the little girl who yells "Daddy!" as I walk through the door in the afternoon. A husband whose wife is carrying a second child and who has news every day of new kicks and new sensations from the baby inside of her.

I can't help but think that many men and women felt regret that day for taking things for granted in their lives, and finding in their haste to get to their jobs or to the airport that they had missed out on precious moments -- and trying to squeeze a lifetime of love into a few moments of a phone call.

But I also think of the fact that God was with the men and women on those planes, in the Pentagon, in the high floors of the World Trade Center. Yes, I'm one of the ones who sometimes wonders how a loving God could let something like this happen -- but it doesn't mean God isn't there. He was there -- he IS here -- and, even in the midst of a tragedy like September 11, 2001, that should be a comfort to us.

Above all else, we should never hesitate to say the things that are important to us. At the end of her column, Noonan writes, "People are often stronger than they know, bigger, more gallant than they'd guess. And this: We're all lucky to be here today and able to say what deserves saying, and if you say it a lot, it won't make it common and so unheard, but known and absorbed."

There are many tributes to the victims of that day -- memorials, scholarship funds, plaques. I think that one of the greatest tributes we could pay to the nearly 4000 victims of that day -- one of the best things we could do to honor their memory -- is to continue to share and pass on our love in every moment that we are still so fortunate to have in this life, moments that were far too short and fleeting for those we remember five years later.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Answering of Prayers

While reading through postings on other blogs I enjoy visiting, I ran across one that included the following passage about prayer: "I am tired of the response God answers "yes, no, maybe". I think that is just rationalization to make ourselves feel keep believing that God is answering our prayers. God has not made himself/herself knowable by answering prayers, imo. When was the last time you moved mountains?"

I thought about the passage for several days before posting a response. To me, the answering of prayers isn't something that is a firm yes/no/maybe that we can see. In fact, I think that many times prayers are answered at a time and in a way that we're either not expecting or not even looking for. Looking back, they might not necessarily have been answered the way that we would have liked. As St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, "There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers." Lots of folks wonder why the prayers that are asking to move mountains aren't answered with an equally-monumental response -- maybe they are; perhaps, though, the mountain is not being moved all at once, but one pebble or one clump of soil at a time.

And my method of prayer? For me, it is often a conversation during a quiet moment where I "talk out" my problems and offer them up for a solution, rather than a structured, bended-knee type exercise. God as a friend you can ring up whenever you want, rather than God as an Oz-type character where you enter the Emerald Palace and beg for an audience and hope he will give you a few minutes to plead your case.

Looking at the cumulative results of prayer I think are similar to the advice given to a writer once who was looking to write the one big story of his life. He was told that, rather than looking for the one big story, write the little stories along the way -- at the end, you'll find that the little stories make up the big story. Same with prayer -- the big answer you're looking for may be the result of several small answers you get along the way.

I am curious as to what others think about the answering of prayers. Do you see your prayers being answered by what you can see or hear as tangible results, or in the many ways that you don't see or hear the results? And how do you approach prayer?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Can't Seem to Get Away from the Hurricanes

In the ten years my wife and I lived on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, we had our fair share of hurricanes blow through the area: Danny, Georges, Erin, Opal, and I'm sure one or two others that I'm forgetting (and that's not including the hurricanes that blew through the state when my wife was growing up in Selma, including Frederick in 1979). Moving back to northern Virginia seemed to offer that great escape from the threat of annual evacuations, power outages, flooding, and just overall aggravation - but it really didn't. In the three years we've been back, one hurricane blew through the metropolitan-D.C. area -- Isabel -- and it looks we're going to get dumped on by the remnants of Ernesto today and tomorrow.

Apparently, bad weather loves us enough that it's following us around the country -- I guess the meteorological equivalent of the Dead-Heads who followed Garcia and crew from state to state. Maybe I should charge admission to the weather gods; may as well get rich off these things.....

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Couldn't Resist This One...

One morning a man came into the church on crutches. He stopped in front of the holy water, put some on both legs, and then threw away his crutches.

An altar boy witnessed the scene and then ran into the rectory to tell the priest what he'd just seen.

"Son, you've just witnessed a miracle!" the priest said. "Tell me where is this man now?"

"Flat on his butt over by the holy water!" the boy informed him.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Music Recommendation of the Day

After a break of several days, consisting in large part of a guys' weekend in Florida, I'm back and trying to catch up with everything (including posting here and reading the many other blogs I keep up with).....

While driving in to work this morning, I was listening to some music from one of my favorite jazz vocalists, Susannah McCorkle -- a marvelous singer who, tragically, took her own life in 2001. (I'll interject here that I would highly recommend just about all of her albums, with the best track on any of them being her version of Antonio Carlos Jobims' "The Waters of March.") I first heard her music entirely by accident several years ago -- rather than flying from Atlanta to Mobile on one of my trips, I opted instead to rent a car, and just happened to hear her while flipping channels and catching the Auburn University radio station -- and was immediately captivated. Hers is one of those amazing voices you only hear on those rare occasions in your life -- intimate, soulful, emotional, heartfelt. And the lyrics tug at your heart and make you think -- the lyrics from "The People That You Never Get to Love" being a perfect example of making you think, not necessarily with regret, about how different your life would have been if you hadn't passed up on those opportunities to talk to someone standing right in front of you.

She put her life into those songs -- a life that ended far too soon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Making a Profit Off the Tragedy of Others

During my daily lunch ritual of channel surfing, a commercial came up advertising the 2001-2006 World Trade Center Gold and Silver Clad Commemorative coin -- which includes silver "miraculously recovered from a bank vault found under tons of debris at Ground Zero." This coin, which features a pop-up skyline of the World Trade Center (it actually sits up along the edge of the coin), is available for the low price of only $29.95 (normally $49.95, and not including shipping). If you're curious, you can see the coin here. Oh, and the company selling these is contributing $5 of each coin to an officially sanctioned 9-11 charities and memorials.

Perhaps I've been blinded to this sort of practice for much of my life, but when did America lose its sense of decency and begin to do everything imaginable to profit off of the tragedy and misfortune of others? I think it's commendable that they are making donations to these charities from the money they make from sale of the coins, but it takes a bit away from it when you read in the advertisement, "To mark the fifth anniversary, $5 of every 2001-2006 World Trade Center Commemorative order is donated...." Why not more? Why wait ten years to contribute $10, or 20 years for $20? The overhead on the production of these coins can't be that high; certainly they could afford to put more in the hands of the funds set aside for the families of the victims.

And there's something that sticks in my craw about crafting these coins from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. In my mind, Ground Zero is -- and always will be -- a gravesite; making a coin from silver found under the same rubble where thousands of innocents died to me is comparable to casting memorial plaques from the steel of the Titanic's hull. I wouldn't want the graves of my family desecrated in order to make a quick buck, and I don't think it should be from the remnants of what was once a proud symbol of New York.

Just a few thoughts from the midst of my lunch-hour outrage.....

Monday, August 21, 2006

Prenatal Sibling Rivalry?

I got a phone call from my wife -- sibling rivalry between our little girl and our as-yet unborn has already reared its head. Our daughter had asked Amy to carry her from the daycare center to the car, and her mommy obliged. However, the not-here-yet child didn't like that at all -- and began kicking furiously. Mary Breeman couldn't feel it, but Amy sure did.

I've heard for a long time that babies still in the womb are sensitive to a lot of external stimulation -- music, voices, laughter, and such. Is it possible that they are also sensitive to the presence of an older sibling that they're not quite ready to deal with?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Each of Us as a Parable?

Here's a brief quote from the Episcopal theologian William Stringfellow that I wanted to post today to prompt some reflection (and possibly conversation).

"So, I believe, biography (and history), any biography and every biography, is inherently theological , in the sense that it contains already -- literally by virtue of the Incarnation -- the news of the gospel whether or not anyone discerns that. We are each one of us parables."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Love Doesn't Get Much Stronger Than This

While trying to decide what to write about today -- our trip to Williamsburg this past weekend, the latest exploits of my daughter, prattling on about life in Washington -- I received an e-mail from my wife which follows. I don't think anything on earth could be a more powerful demonstration of love. Once reading the message, which is a recent article by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated, be sure to click the video link that follows -- and if it doesn't bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your heart, I don't know what will.

"Strongest Dad in the World"
[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. "Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. "No way,'' Dick says he was told. "There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.

Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. "Dad,'' he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters.

"No question about it,'' Rick types. "My dad is the Father of the Century.''

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

"The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, "is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.''

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And for the More Traditional Folks, Some Horowitz....

If Gould is too extreme for you, here's a bit of an alternative -- Vladimir Horowitz performing the third movement of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto.

Either way, Gould or Horowitz, you can't go wrong.

Music In Lieu of the Spoken Word

I decided to take a break from writing today and instead share some music. Glenn Gould was -- and is -- one of my favorites, and this is one of his finest recordings.

Variations 1-7 of his 1980 recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations".....

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Winter in August

I think my sister has been reading my mind, with all of my thoughts lately about the heat here in Northern Virginia. She was sending me some examples of her photography, and this was one of them. It's well worth sharing -- and enjoying the wonderful images and emotions it brings up.....

What Does Gatsby Have to Do With My Family?

As we start to recover from this recent heatwave, I keep coming back to the scene from The Great Gatsby where Jay, Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan have driven in to Manhattan to find something to do away from home. Not being able to think of anything, Daisy says that it's too hot really to do much of anything, and so they head for (presumably) the Plaza Hotel and rent a room for the day. The next scene cuts to the five of them wilting in their room with the windows open and some sort of fan running, but not unfortunately finding any relief from the heat.

There's something that I've always enjoyed about that scene -- being able to live a life where the worst thing you have to worry about is that it's too hot to goof off in the big city, and so you compensate by renting a lavish room in a world-class hotel and having an afternoon slip away, borne only by gin and gossip. As I've gotten older, though, my opinion has changed considerably -- although it still holds a certain appeal for me. I can't imagine living a life where I've got nothing to do and nowhere to do it.

My friend Julie over at JulieUnplugged recently posted an entry about the idea of taking a vacation away from marriage, and there was lively discussion from many of the readers of both the pros and cons of trying to do something like that. In thinking about in the days since, it occurs more to me that trying to vacation away from marriage and family is trying to escape from something that makes life really wonderful. Leaving the spouse and children in an effort to find time to go somewhere and to do nothing (or something different from the normal routine) is to leave the people that help complete your identity. Throughout much of Gatsby, Tom and Daisy are taking a vacation away from each other -- Daisy with Gatsby and Tom with Myrtle -- and doing so leads to a tragic set of circumstances.

Vacations are nice, and as an introvert having a little time to myself to recharge is extremely valuable. But trying to escape from your life -- even as glamorous as it sounds through the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald -- isn't something anyone who truly values all the gifts they have with their family should attempt.

(But there's still something pretty cool about those parties over at Gatsby's......)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Love of a Child

While reading through the second volume of Frederick Buechner's autobiography, Now and Then, I ran across an amazing quote that is one very eloquent demonstration of how powerful the love of a parent for a child can be. It's definitely worth posting here and sharing with everyone; I'd be interested in any comments from readers here who are also parents.

"'He who loves has fifty woes ... who loves none has no woe,' said the Buddha, and it is true. To love another, as you love a child, is to become vulnerable in a whole new way. It is no longer only through what happens to yourself that the world can hurt you but through what happens to the one you love also and greatly more hurtingly. When it comes to your own hurt, there are always things you can do. You can put up a brave front, for one, and behind that front, if you are lucky, if you persist, you can become a little brave inside yourself. You can become strong in the broken places, as Hemingway said. You can become philosophical, recognizing how much of your troubles you have brought down on your own head and resolving to do better by yourself in the future. Like King Lear on the heath, you can become more compassionate. Like the whiskey priest, you can become a saint. But when it comes to the hurt of a child you love, you are all but helpless. The child makes terrible mistakes, and there is very little you can do to ease his pain, especially when you are so often a part of his pain as the child is also a part of yours. There is no way to make him strong with such strengths as you may have found through your own hurt, or wise through such wisdom, and even if there were, it would be the wrong way because it would be your way, not his. The child's pain becomes your pain, and as the innocent bystander, maybe it is even a worse pain for you, and in the long run even the bravest front is not much use.

"What man and woman, if they gave serious thought to what having children inevitably involves, would ever have them? Yet what man and woman, once having had them and loved them, would ever want it otherwise? ... To suffer in love for another's suffering is to live life not only at its fullest but at its holiest ... The small beat up face I saw for the first time that January morning in 1959 actually was the face of the world if I'd only had a saint's eyes to see it with."

Monday, July 31, 2006

In the Good Old Summertime?

There's a time in each year
That we always hold dear,
Good old summer time;
With the birds and the treeses
And sweet scented breezes,
Good old summer time,
When your day's work is over
Then you are in clover,
And life is one beautiful rhyme,
No trouble annoying,
Each one is enjoying,
The good old summer time.
- George Evans, 1902

God bless Mr. Evans, but when he penned those lyrics 104 years ago, there was undoubtedly something he didn't take into consideration -- the temperature!! It's extremely difficult to think of "sweet scented breezes" when there's not a hint of a breeze anywhere, and the only "clover" around is the clover in my backyard that is slowing turning brown because of the tremendous heat. It seems like every time the Washington area gets out of one heat wave, another comes in right behind it and knocks us back on our rears. Tomorrow and Wednesday will only be worse -- near, at, or over 100 degrees for both days and for much of the week.

I feel horribly sluggish at times like this, and it's difficult to even consider taking the little girl outside to play for even a little while without worrying that she'll overheat. Our kittens -- who love nothing more than to sit at the door and have us open and close it repeatedly so that they can walk in and out -- don't even want to spend much time outdoors. And for the second time, my wife is going through the first major part of a pregnancy in the heat of the summer.

My patience with anything in this weather is thin. But think of those in the Old and New Testaments who dealt with temperatures like this, and didn't have central air or electric fans to fall back on -- Moses and his 40 years in the desert; Jesus and his 40 days in the Judean wilderness; Joseph and his life in Egypt. They had to have struggled with their patience while under these circumstances, but each relied on the strength of God and their faith to get them through. Circumstances are quite different -- 100-degree weather and a Washington traffic jam aren't even close to being the same as facing Egyptians, drought, and the temptations of Satan -- but staying calm and taking a moment in prayer can get us through these challenges just as they did thousands of years ago.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Musings on Buechner, Growing Up, and the Voice of Life

I'm close to finishing yet another amazing book, The Sacred Journey, written by Frederick Buechner (and the first of his three autobiographical volumes). For those who may not be aware, Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and writer whose works -- particularly his collections of sermons -- have provided inspiration to millions of people, clerics and laity alike, around the world. This first book focuses on the early part of his life, from childhood through early adulthood.

Two particular ideas that Buechner sets out in telling his life story jumped out me as worth reflecting on, and so I'd like to take a moment to do just that.

First, one of the major themes threading through the book, and a lesson that Buechner says he learned for himself as he has progressed through life, is that one should always listen to the sounds of their life. As he says after running through an example of the sounds (what many would refer to as noises) he was listening to in his house at a particular moment, "We must learn to listen to the cock-crows and hammering and tick-tock of our lives for the holy and elusive word that is spoken to use out of their depths."

How often do we indeed take time to listen to what is going on in our lives? As I have discovered in my discernment process, I am an introvert, tending to draw much of my strength from solitude, and I use my love of music -- something I have had since I was a child -- as a tool to help drown out the distractions of life. Whether it be going to or coming from work, or trying to get to sleep at night, or sitting and reading on the front porch, I am pretty much always playing music; until now, I thought it was to help relax me. In truth, it appears to be simply a manner of pulling within myself to refresh and escape the noise of life.

But why should we avoid the cacophony of what is going on around us? Why should we not take in (without eavesdropping) the conversations going on around us? Why shouldn't we accept and be attuned to the sounds of the birds in the trees, or the cars driving by on the street, or the airplanes flying overhead? As Buechner points out, we should do that very thing: "...all those sounds together, or others like them, are the sound of our lives. What each of them might be thought to mean separately is less important than what they all mean together. At the very least they mean this: mean listen. Listen. Your life is happening. You are happening."

The 21st century world in which we live has, for good or bad, become a very type A world (a trait that I fear I have acquired during my professional career). Because of that, people all too often focus on the immediate task at hand, complete it, and rush to the next problem or obstacle or assignment to clear it off their list. In doing this, we miss so much -- hurrying to get the garbage to the curb in the morning just as the garbage truck rumbles up the street prevents us from hearing the birds sitting on a wire overhead who are observing us running around. Hurrying through the neighborhood on the way to work could easily keep us from hearing the laughter of children enjoying their summer vacation.

Buechner reminds us that "at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks." It's a truly valuable lesson, and one that I think that all of us should try to remember; in the noise and in the silence, God is talking to us. At the very least, we should take time to stop and listen to what he is saying.


Another important story in Sacred Journey deals with the transition that we all must make from being a child to being an adult. In describing childhood, Buechner writes, "...for a child all time is by and large now time and apparently endless...It is by its content rather than its duration that a child knows time, by its quality rather than its quantity." Reading these words brought me to a very reflective point, where I was thinking back to how timeless my own childhood was: the summer nights out in the yard that we some of the most enjoyable times of the year; the Christmas Eve dinners at my grandparents house that ended so late that, when we left their house, the cold, clear December air was lit with the twinkle of millions of stars; the long walks and playtime in the woods that were the highlight of my week; the parties and games with my friends -- all of these provided memories that I still carry with me to this day.

I never thought those times would end. As slowly as life seemed to be progressing for me, I never thought I would so quickly move to being nearly 40, having a family, having responsibilities, and having to make my way in the world without the luxury of Mom and Dad and the old house to come home to every evening. Those times do end, though; " starts at whatever moment it is at which the unthinking and timeless innocence of childhood ends, which may be either a dramatic moment...or a moment or series of moments so subtle and undramatic that we scarcely recognize them." I don't know when that time was for me, and honestly I think it falls more into the series of moments to which Buechner is referring. Even now, so many years later, I miss the part of my life where time didn't matter, where I was sure that all of the tough decisions affecting my life would be made for me, and where I didn't have to worry about growing up and moving out into the world.

At times, I still try and recapture that feeling -- going back to visit that one special former home, or taking a walk through the woods that were so important as a child, or revisiting the places that held such significance in the years that I was growing up. Even now, at 36, there are still moments where I have difficulty accepting that time is flying by so quickly. Part of me still longs for the time where it didn't matter to me that (paraphrasing Buechner) that there were clocks and calendars all around that were "counting my time out like money."

But as often as I've heard it in my life, you really can't go home again -- or, as Buechner writes, "We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music." The lesson here is not to try to relive the individual moments that make up your life, but to listen to the overall story that God has crafted by speaking in those moments. That's one of the most amazing things that has come out of my discernment process -- learning to hear the voice of God and find the movement of the Spirit in my life. The joy from that is even greater than the joy of having lived the life.