Friday, September 30, 2005

What happened to the lesson from Vietnam?

The Sojourners quote of the day yesterday put me on to a 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr., speech. What would Martin Luther King say today? I expect he would say some of the same things he said more than 38 years ago—just replacing Vietnam with Iraq.

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

“It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam . . . In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation.”

“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

(Quotations from Martin Luther King address to Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City April 4, 1967.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I’d like to see a change in the way we fund war.

For cancer research we do runs, walks, relays, and rides. For natural disasters we have concerts and telethons. For wars we have taxes. I think George Bush, Dick Chaney, and Donald Rumsfeld should have to do fund raisers for their wars. They could modify the American Cancer Society event and create a Relay for Strife.

These guys know how to raise money for reelection campaigns. Why not use these skills to fund the war in Iraq? Or what about renting out the Lincoln bedroom? Maybe the American people wouldn’t mind as long as they knew the money was being used for nation building in an oil-rich country.

If nothing else they could sell red, white, and blue bracelets.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I’m probably overreacting, but the phrase “unless Africa tames corruption, new aid effort will fail” was off-putting to me.

It was the subhead for an article titled “Can We Defeat Poverty?” I know corruption is a huge problem in Africa, but in the Western world our warts have been exposed to the point where it seems inappropriate and arrogant to talk down to the rest of the world about corruption.

Before reading the article, I was wondering if we were going to pat ourselves on the back for what we are doing about poverty in Africa and then make sure people know it’s Africa’s fault if our efforts don’t work. I read the article and got some information, but no answers.

Can we defeat poverty? Not with articles and not with blogs overreacting to article headlines.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It’s a new day and I’m looking forward to the unexpected.

The little surprises of today might be an unanticipated e-mail or phone call. Perhaps a task will take half as long as planned instead of twice the time. Yesterday at the office it was a large payment received sooner than expected.

Beyond the task list reminders that keep popping up are some unknown opportunities and even in the routine tasks there is the potential for the extraordinary to appear.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Instead of going to church this morning I went for a bicycle ride. Last Sunday I went for a walk in downtown Portland instead of going to church.

My parents didn’t raise me that way. I was taught that recreational activities did not qualify as an “excused absence.” I don’t feel a need to defend or analyze the pros and cons between going to church and participating in cancer research fundraisers. My actions tell my story.

Next Sunday I’ll be back in my regular pew.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I’m not ready for a 40-mile bicycle ride tomorrow, but I’ll be doing it.

When I signed up of the LiveStrong Ride three months ago I resolved to get in better shape. But for three months it has been tomorrow, or next week, that I was going to make time for riding.

If I understand the statistics there are 3,850 new cases of cancer every day in the United States. These people are much less prepared for what they face than what I am. For me it is just sitting on a bike seat and cranking the pedals. I’ll stop and rest whenever I need to—often. People who get the cancer diagnosis face a physical and emotional challenge that has no defined finish line. Mind, body, and spirit will be in a battle for survival. Even cancer cases that aren’t life threatening have the power to create a dark cloud of fear.

When I picked up my ride packet today I got an “in honor of” tag and an “in memory of” tag that I’ll pin on my back. “Cynthia McCracken” will be the name under “in honor of.” She is my wife and a three-year survivor of breast cancer. “In memory of” will list Lucille McCracken [mother], Trina McCracken [daughter], and Steve LeBaron [step brother]. The list could go on, but I’m not in good enough shape to carry more.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Have you done anything for fun lately?

Yesterday at lunch a friend asked this question. He does this periodically because he knows I have a tendency to take myself too seriously. He knows I can let obligation crowd out celebration. He’s not looking for new ideas for what he might do on the weekend, he’s reminding me that balance is important.

His question distracts me from my “to do” list. It makes me think of things I’ve done with discretionary time that have given me enjoyment and it reminds me of some things I did only because they were on the schedule that can also receive a “fun” label. I’m prompted to look past tedium and review the delightful things of life—things like eating pad thai with a friend.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I’m feeling “oppressed by things undone.”

A man named John Hunter captured well my inability to close the gap between what I actually accomplish compared to the much longer list of things I want to (and believe I should) do.

Though what I dream and what I do
In my weak days are always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O Thou whose deeds and dreams were one!
(from "Dear Jesus, in Whose Life I See" by John Hunter)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Helping the poor can be an ego trip. I’ll let you speculate on how I know.

Motives can be really tricky and I don’t want to get too analytical about the driving force behind acts of charity. But right now I can think of three unhealthy motivations for helping the poor.

Guilt: Feeling guilty about comparative affluence motivates to give because we should instead of sharing because we want to.

Self preservation: This is helping the poor just enough so they won’t be driven by desperation to come take what we have.

Pride: Both in arms length financial assistance and on the face-to-face level a subtle sense of superiority can infect what would otherwise be a healthy relationship.

I’m afraid I have a long way to go before my relationship with the poor is Christ-like.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The news media is reporting that Hurricane Katrina may disrupt plans for new prescription drug benefits for the elderly that are scheduled to start January 1, 2006.

Why is it Hurricane Katrina instead of the war in Iraq that may disrupt prescription drug benefits? Which one of these things could have been avoided? Which one is receiving international support? I really don’t want to hear a natural disaster take the blame for this administration’s “spend now, pay later” economic policy and it’s willingness to dump money and lives into a counterproductive war.

If someone is going to have to make a sacrifice it shouldn’t be the elderly.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Yesterday we did the Korman Race for the Cure in Portland.

As we crossed the finish line of the walk my six-year-old granddaughter asked her mother (my daughter) if we did it; did we get the cure?

No, Nicole, not yet. But we did get another step closer. All we have yet is better diagnosis, better treatment, and sometimes better outcomes. Nicole, I’m glad you know about Race for the Cure, Relay for Life, and Live Strong. I hope by the time you are an adult you won’t have as much reason to fear cancer as we do now. I hope it doesn’t touch your life or the lives of your children.

Nicole, it was a long walk for your short legs. I don’t know how many more times you’ll have to do it before we get the cure, but I want to keep walking with you until we reach the goal.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

“We will guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.”

This is a phrase from a song used a lot in Christian circles a generation ago. I was reminded of it when I was thinking about the challenge of maintaining self-respect when one is unable to be self sufficient. The victims of Hurricane Katrina didn’t just lose their homes; they lost their ability to provide for their families. Dignity and confidence are harder to restore than homes. Natural disasters don’t destroy dignity, but the results of disasters make people’s dignity and confidence more vulnerable. Many of the people most impacted by Hurricane Katrina were already struggling to hold on to the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. We do not live in a classless society and nobody is more keenly aware of this than the “have nots.”

I’ll admit I’m not at the point where I adequately guard the dignity and pride of those on the other end of the spectrum from the famous, wealthy, intellectual, or good looking.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In my home George Bush does not have an approval rating.

The best our President seems able to do is occasionally lower his disapproval level. I didn’t hear him say anything really stupid in is speech last night, so in my efforts to be fair I have slightly lowered my disapproval rating.

In the news analysis after the speech, even the Republican pundit admitted the President did not call on the American people to make a sacrifice. Hurricane Katrina has an enormous price tag, as did 9-11, that calls for a shared sacrifice. And it calls for more than a “spend and go into debt” economic policy. It seems to me Republicans will have to eliminate “tax and spend liberal” from their partisan name calling.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I’m looking for a book.

Each month we host an online book discussion in the Barclay Press Conversation Café. We haven’t selected the book for November yet, but we have selected the topic—poverty. I’d like something current (published within the past couple of years). I want to feature a book that stimulates a change in thought and action—not just something that describes the problem. It should be more proactive than something that just rips the welfare system apart. The book needs to be “Christian” enough to capture universal truth such as the virtue of compassion and the power of selflessness. And it needs to be relevant and discussable.

Jesus gives a lot more attention to the poor than what most churches do. Christian publishers would do well to be more like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I love trees.

Four big oak trees shade the southeast corner of our home. Their majesty adds character to the community. They make a kind of music as the evening breeze moves the leaves outside our upstairs bedroom window.

But the trunks are on the other side of our property line, so our trees do not belong to us. The new neighbors who have jurisdiction over these trees say they like trees, but they believe these oaks present a danger and a liability. An outraged neighbor from two doors down the street was telling me last night that these people don’t realize these are God’s trees and the new neighbors have no right to cut them down. But a chain saw is droning and a naked spot is opening up in the skyline.

This fall will be tree planting time on our side of the line. Perhaps one should be an oak.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I was in Wichita, Kansas, this past weekend. Barclay Press presented an emerging writers workshop on Saturday. Three of us flew into Wichita Friday afternoon.

After dinner we drove past the Friends University campus. A couple the three of us know in varying degrees lives near the campus, but we didn’t have an address. A phone call back to Oregon produced the address. Our Wichita friends/acquaintances got no more than a two minute warning before we pulled up in front of their house.

I expect the time we spent in their home Friday evening will come to mind now when I hear the word hospitality. It wasn’t just the fresh-baked banana (with chocolate chips) bread. It was the relaxed grace with which our spontaneity was welcomed.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What do the numbers tell us?

I’m not a sociologist, economist, or politician. But the “facts on the ground” make it obvious that the line between the “haves” and the “have nots” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina follows a racial line. I don’t understand why it’s okay to say that economic status had an influence on whether people were able to get out of harms way, but it’s not politically correct to say that race was a factor. It seems to me that one of the important steps in dealing with a systemic problem is to admit it.

Hurricane Katrina has made it pretty hard for us to ignore that socio-economic class and race have an unhealthy relationship.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I’m fortunate.

I’m well-off in quantity and quality of friends. Last week I had lunch with a man I worked with in Mississippi 25 years ago. He now lives in Southern California and was visiting in the Portland area. It’s been several years since we last saw each other.

When good friends interact (whether face to face, on the phone, or by e-mail) something happens that makes one plus one equal something more than two. Invisible and inaudible things happen. When mental and spiritual gears mesh, power is generated.

Good friends are a source of enjoyment, wisdom, encouragement, fun, inspiration, counsel, motivation, security, and they make me a better person.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

There is always a test on the first day of school. It’s the test of confidence.

There are so many unknowns. Am I wearing the right clothes? Do I have the right backpack? Will my teacher be kind or mean? Will I feel out of place? Will I have friends who really care about me? And what about the lockers and combinations?

How a person scores on the confidence test is not as important as which road is taken the next day—the high road toward improving assurance and poise or the low road where the norm is insecurity, doubt, and retreat.

Today my granddaughter started first grade and my youngest son experienced his first day of high school. I’m glad they score better than I ever did on the first day confidence test.

It’s been 40 years since I was in high school, but less than that since my last dream about being unable to find my locker or being unable to remember the combination for my lock.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The need to address poverty and racism in the United States has moved up in priority.

Relief is the number one priority now, but poverty and racism need to be on the agenda in bold, black letters that can’t be whitewashed. When I point out that the last people out of New Orleans—the people in shelters—are predominantly black, I’m not suggesting that the city was evacuated based on race. But it seems impossible to deny that economic status didn’t have a direct effect on whether people got out or didn’t. And when to look closely at poverty we will also see racism.

We have a lot more than levees, homes, and businesses to repair.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The legal term “Act of God” is a poor choice of words.

It’s used to describe an extraordinary and unexpected natural event (such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or flood) that cannot be reasonably foreseen or prevented. Use of a term like this has a way of perpetuating the myth that God operates a master control panel for the universe. I believe in a God who created the universe, but I can’t buy the notion that he treats the created world or my personal life like a puppet on a string.

Hurricane Katrina is a natural disaster. It is not an act of God.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

“Money can’t buy me love.” (the Beattles)

And money can’t, by itself, show love. Yesterday my wife and I wrote a check for hurricane relief. It’s the right thing to do. Money is the best way (and perhaps only way) many of us can help. But I need to take a look at what the victims of Hurricane Katrina need that money can’t buy—like love.

I’d seen on TV the picture of a wheelchair holding one of the dead covered with a black and red sleeping bag and nearby a body covered with a white sheet. But the picture in this morning’s Oregonian was the same scene with Harry Connick, Jr., on one knee, head bowed, eyes closed, one hand on the wheelchair. I saw love and compassion that my check can’t deliver.

Friday, September 02, 2005

If I were a member of a church within 6 hours driving time from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, this is the notice I would want to receive:

“Regular worship services including Sunday school have been canceled until further notice. We are using our facilities to feed and house people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina and therefore do not have space available for our regular programs. You now have the opportunity to come to church to perform service instead of attend service.

“The attached schedule lists time slots for cooking, serving, and cleaning. Please bring sheets, blankets, and air mattresses to the church today. Volunteers for transportation and laundry are also needed. See you in church!

“Pastoral staff is devoting their time to counseling victims and coordinating our efforts with other relief agencies. A short vespers service for prayer, meditation, and encouragement will be held every evening at 7:00 in a tent that is being set up on the church lawn. Members are invited to these services along with disaster victims who choose to attend.”

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Where did the summer go?

It’s a rhetorical question lots of us use to indicate that June, July, and August went by quickly. It’s the way we bemoan the fact that the sun is setting earlier, school is starting, and chances for vacation time dwindle. We didn’t barbeque often enough and we have “good weather” projects that aren’t done. School children who have relished sleeping in will have to adjust their bedtime.

Summer is special, and in six months I won’t be saying, “Where did the winter go?”