Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Day Alabama Almost Died by Gary Furr Remembering April 27, 2011

Video still suspended on the internet, weathermen almost screaming fear and warning,

Maps lit up with horrible storms, bright, rotating monsters

And the skycams filming it

Dark rumbling cone of cloud, wider and firmer, roaring down,

Swallowing places we all recognized, this street corner, that road, this hospital and the University itself

Gobbled into darkness

We sat watching helplessly in what passes for our safe place

Terrified for people we know and can’t call or get to

Just sat there, watching, listening, praying in a basement or a closet

Now it lives on YouTube and in children’s nightmares

Fear comes out of nowhere, rumbling into a sunny place and wipes it out

We still remember .  How can you forget 63 tornadoes,

Taking down a state a town at a time?  Houses blown apart, unglued matchsticks

Flying everywhere.  That was the picture everyone shared

But it’s the million snapshots, most of them not taken

Sagging shoulders of an old man and his wife looking at the wreckage of sixty years

A family crying over photographs and precious pets and dead neighbors

Burying the body of a son or a mother or a friend

Who committed no crime against nature that took their life.

The foolish weakness of our lives pitted against something so vast that we shrank away

Our hearts melted, our schedules crashed, our computers went dead with no grid to hook to

Agendas changed, all the foolishness swept away into immediate priority

Only holding the people we love, finding the body of a lost daughter

Feeding a neighbor who was hungry and broke

Losing a job that blew away in a second.  Going to church when it mattered

Listening for God when God seemed gone

Oh, we remember a million snapshots, of a child calling, “I’m okay,” of a house that used to be

Where a neighbor and his wife died, their bodies snapped like twigs and tossed into an undignified heap

Diapers and receipts and toys and furniture, curtains and unrecognizable slivers, trashbags and deck chairs

Wood and metal and rope and canvas, slung in no pattern, no priority and with no respect for their value

Gone, gone, gone, a house, a town, a store where we shopped, a friend we knew,

A way of life we lived, a sense of safety with which we deluded ourselves

But some things still didn’t blow away—faith and hope and love survived

Love for strangers fired up strong and woke us up to one another.

But we stood for a moment, blown away like the pieces of our lives and our world

Dazed, disbelief, daunted, discouraged, disheartened, darkened in soul

For just a moment, to take it in.  We will never forget if we rebuild it all again

What happened that April day, when Alabama almost died.

     

“Blue Like Jazz”: Not Your Father’s Evangelical Movie

 “Blue Like Jazz” arrived at selected theaters this past week, an odd stepchild among usual movie fare of aliens, vampires, and things that go boom.  Derived from Donald Miller’s book by the same name, “Blue Like Jazz” is a story of life and faith during a young man’s first year of college.  Don, the main character, is son of a bible believing single mother who wants to protect her son and an atheist  father who is emotionally disconnected, mostly absent, and religiously hostile.

Donald’s Dad wangles an acceptance from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a school filled with intellectually brilliant and morally unfettered not-quite-adults.  After struggling with it, he heads to Reed and Portland instead of the Baptist college his mother wants him to attend.  Soon life is filled with Political Correctness, drugs, booze and moral haze.   The professors challenge every aspect of life, and students engage in protest and outrageousness as an extracurricular activity.

From that point we follow Don as he struggles with the pain of the life he has left behind but the faith that won’t leave him alone.  He is ashamed of that identity, and tries to fit in, but never really does.  The church is an ambiguous presence throughout the movie.  The childhood church that Don leaves behind is a stereotype of tacky children’s sermons and fear of the world.  The youth pastor is glib, a know-it-all, self-assured, and, it turns out, secretly sleeping with Don’s mother, which brings a crisis into his life later in the story. Read the rest of this entry

Those Two Little Words

There are two little magic words that can open any door with ease

one little word is “Thanks” and the other little word is please

Since we now have a thirteen month old GC (I’ll just abbrieviate “Grandchild” so I can resist declining into obnoxia braggadocci , which can be fatal to the hearer), I travel more than I normally do.  And I am having to watch all sorts of media and sing songs that were long forgotten.  My wife’s fav is “A helper I will be, a helper I will be, stop what you’re doing and clean up nice-ly” to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell”.  We have a luscious video of our GC slinging toys down as fast as her Mom can pick them up while Mom sings (in vain) “A helper I will be…” Read the rest of this entry

Delta Dawn. I Try to Fly Again.

How on earth can people board before getting on the plane? 

OK, last summer one of my early blogs (CLICK HERE TO READ THE DISMAL TALE) was about the general malaise breaking out among airline passengers due to the Read the rest of this entry

To Kill A Mockingbird…50 years later

Here in Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of our great treasures.  You can still go to Monroeville, Alabama and see a live re-enactment of the story every year by the local citizenry.  You start out in the yard, then move inside the courthouse, and it is eerily reminiscent of the movie because Hollywood built a replica of it for the film.  When I went with friends a few years back, I felt a flash of shame and pain when the n-word was uttered while African American locals up in the balcony were in our presence.  I was embarrassed.  So we’ve made some progress, I guess.  As a child in North Carolina the word was uttered around me thoughtlessly, as a part of an unquestioned culture of resentment and vulnerable entitlement. Read the rest of this entry

The Four Things That Matter Most

 

Please forgive me.  I forgive you.  Thank you.  I love you.

The wonderful New Testament scholar George Beasley-Murray once wrote that what the gospel of Mark imparts to us in nine verses, the gospel of John spends five chapters.  John 13-17 is the home of some of the richest, most direct and powerful sayings of Jesus.  It is called by scholars, “The Farewell Discourse.”  Words from a dying man to his beloved friends.  He says, “I love you,” again and again in many ways.  He tells them things that need saying.  Death concentrates the mind and focuses life.

Dr. Ira Byock

My friend Paul Robertson, who is a Chaplain and CPE director in Houston, Texas, told me about a book by Dr. Ira Byock called, The Four Things That Matter Most:  A Book About Living.  Dr. Byock is a physician specializing in palliative care at Dartmouth Medical Center and a professor of palliative care at the medical school there.  Palliative care, if you don’t know the lingo, is about helping people to die with integrity and comfort, easing the journey to death.  So it may seem odd that a book that is about dying and making peace with death would have as its subtitle, “A Book About Living.”

He says that these are the “four things” that matter most, and that before we can die, or live for that matter, we must say them to the people who matter to us the most.  This is a wonderful book, one I recommend you read.  It’s short, beautiful and on target.  Here are his four things:

 

 

Please forgive me.

I forgive you.

Thank you.

I love you.

Some thoughts from Dr. Byock that spoke to me:

“I’ve learned from my patients and their families about the painful regret that comes from not speaking these most basic feelings. Again and again, I’ve witnessed the value of stating the obvious. When you love someone, it is never too soon to say, “I love you,” or premature to say, “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” or “Will you please forgive me?” When there is nothing of profound importance left unsaid, relationships tend to take on an aspect of celebration, as they should.”

 “When you love someone, it is never too soon to say, “I love you,” or premature to say, “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” or “Will you please forgive me?” When there is nothing of profound importance left unsaid, relationships tend to take on an aspect of celebration, as they should.”

“I also encourage them to say good-bye. ..The word good-bye derives from “God be with you,” a blessing that was traditionally given at parting and, in some churches”

During Holy Week, we focus on an intense experience of saying goodbye.  Grief is a very perilous and important experience in every way. When we grieve, we don’t get our way.  When we fail to grieve, we don’t really live.

This week, liturgically, we start moving toward some plain speaking, gospel wise.  Forgiveness is costly.  Love wins, death loses, but not without shedding blood and dying.    Commitments:  simple, plain.  Nothing complicated, but not easy.  And you need to say some things that seem simple, but are really doors into the rich treasures of the heart.

I need forgiveness. 

I know you love me, God.

I love you. 

Thank you for what you’ve done. 

Here I am.

The extraordinary center of our gospel may well be in 2 Corinthians 5 when Paul says

19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Far more of our lives are engaged with these two verses than almost anything else other than eating, sleeping and breathing–reconciling ourselves to life, God, our histories, our destiny, limits, and, finally, one another.  “Be reconciled” is a wonderful word for us this week.  Simple words.

 

For more about Ira Byock’s book, click the image below.

 

 

The Two Cases of Trayvon Martin

When it comes to the painful problem of race, it’s never about one thing…it’s about everything. 

Trayvon Martin

By Gary Furr

The explosion that has occurred in recent days over the shooting of a Florida  teenager has reignited one of our oldest and most enduring debates.  The case of Trayvon Martin has caused outbursts between journalists, demonstrations and a weary “Will we ever be able to move past this?” cloud to hover again over us.  The gulf between the races is painfully obvious.  It sounds as though we are talking about two different cases.  And we are.

In the late 1980s, I listened as an African American pastor friend in South Georgia, a disabled veteran, told me about watching men with pickhandles and baseball bats beat his father nearly to death because his father had disagreed with his boss at work.  As a ten year old boy, he watched through the blinds in terror.  He described a journey of forgiveness and grief over that incident that lasted far into adulthood as he tried to make peace with incomprehensible violence.

In July of 2010, I was a part of a group of pastors from Alabama who traveled together to Israel for a pilgrimage as part of a very generous grant from a foundation aimed at giving us rest, study and spiritual renewal.  Amazingly, since our congregations did not have to pay for it, they all voted to let us go.

It exceeded our expectations, as we all enjoyed a wonderful experience of community and prayer in the land where the founder of our faith walked the earth.  It is also a place of contradictions, of course, and we saw those, too.  We saw the ugly “barriers” that cordoned off the Palestinian people in their towns, born of genuine anxiety for security among the Israelis and yet which only deepens the frustrations between the two groups.  Security is always a concern where mistrust abounds.

If you ever go to the “Holy Land,” as we Christians usually call it, the entry to the airport begins with a clump of scowering, eagle-eyed security people clustered around a narrow doorway where everyone enters, looking you up and down with folded arms and either expressionless or glaring.  We walked past–I had been before and advised everyone, “Don’t joke, don’t laugh, just walk through.”

At one point, I heard something, and noticed that our three African-American pastors had all been detained and whisked to the side.  I started to go back, thought better about, and simply waited until the interrogation was over.  In a little while, they were released and we were on our way.  At first we kidded and joked, but then we fell silent.

Hard to talk about it

It was obvious to me that they were pained about this.  They are three highly educated, holy, respected men, two veterans and one a younger pastor.  Their integrity is as high as I know.  I would trust my life to them.  But in a world of fear and insecurity, all that goes out the window.

Later, we talked about it, and they told us that this was and always had been a part of life.  They were pulled out for no other reason than their skin color.  They told us stories of being pulled over because of the car they were driving or walking down a street.  As we began to comprehend some of what they had been through, our mood about the incident, short as it had lasted, changed to somber and sad reflection.  A world in radical distrust is a painful thing indeed.

Having once lived in a small community that exploded in a racial crisis during the 1980s, I once said in a meeting that when it comes to racial divides that “truth can become a casualty.”  It got a negative reaction and I realize why it was wrong.  It’s not truth that becomes the casualty, it’s the argument about the facts.  It is akin to a debate between a married couple about when the last time he kissed his wife—it is beside the point.

The bare facts of a particular event can miss the point when it is connected to a cosmic or cultural reality.  There is always more “here” and so we end up arguing, in a sense, about a particular case AND a long painful history AND the emotional, experiential and perceptive divide between us.  If we do not understand this, the temptation is then either to say, “Courts, justice and processes should be thrown out” or to say, “This is all emotion, irrationality, fear and overreaction.”

In times like this one, perceptions, experiences, truths, that need, more than anything, to be shared, heard and understood often explode into the moment.  Most of the time, these complexities are ignored, suppressed or unnoticed.   The outcry calls attention, but there is hard work to be done in every place when the protests end and the media moves on to the next thing.

Understanding is hard, hard work.  So is justice.  Facts are the limiting factor of an investigation, but our disconnections from one another are something bigger that deserves some work at the level of our citizenship and “neighbor love.”  If we have solved many of the legal issues of race, we have not overcome the pain of our disconnections and distrust of one another.  We are in the realm of attitude, perceptions, and understanding.

In the community where I was, we had a wonderful group of leaders, black and white, who had met and worked together to deepen understanding for a long time before the crisis happened.  Without it, no way to work through it would have existed.  That these channels do not often exist in many communities where people of good will intentionally step out of their usual places to offer themselves as listeners is part of the disconnect.  Good relationships don’t happen without an effort on both ends.

The particular case of Trayvon Martin’s death is one thing legally, and another in this larger sense.  When it comes to racial matters, it’s never about one thing—it’s about all the things.  For Christians who have been handed the ministry of reconciliation, this is a fine time to listen, not react.  The calling to Christians in such a moment is to patience, to not reacting, to find a place where something good could be done, to keep our tempers, and to work for understanding and patient agape love.  Listening never costs anything more than a little time, but it can only be given by the surrender of one’s attention and care.  It is fitting in Holy Week to remember Paul’s breathtaking summary that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).   Holy week is a memory that it is in the most unpromising times that the world can change for the better.