Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Impeach President Bush !

We should impeach?

1. He lied to Congress.
2. He promoted torture of prisoners of war.
3. He authorized illegal wiretaps.

1. He lied to Congress. By lying to Congress, Bush violated US Laws related to Fraud and False Statements, Title 18, Chapter 47, Section 1001 and Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Title 18, Chapter 19, Section 371.

Lie #1 - Uranium from Niger - Bush said "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." in his State of the Union Address. In reality, Bush had been informed by intelligence officials months before his speach that the sale never took place and that the documentary evidence had been forged.

Lie #2 - Iraq and 9/11 - Bush led people to believe that Iraq was involved with 9/11 by repeatedly linking them in his speeches. In his State of the Union speech in 2003, he said, "Before 11 September 2001, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents and lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons, and other plans - this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known." This was so effective that at one point 70% of Americans actually believed Saddam was behind 9/11. Bush has since admitted that this was not true.

Lie #3 - Congress Knew - Bush has stated that Congress had access to all the same information that the White House had. Thus he should not be blamed for making the mistake of going to war. But Bush was briefed many times about the falsehood of various stories and this information never reached Congress. [ZNet]

Lie #4 - Aluminum Tubes - Bush, Cheney, Rice and Powell said that some aluminum tubes Iraq attempted to buy were intended for use in a uranium centrifuge to create nuclear weapons. These were the only physical evidence he had against Iraq. But it turns out this evidence had been rejected by the Department of Energy and other intelligence agencies long before Bush used them in his speeches. [NYTimes] [MotherJones] [CNN]

Lie #5 - Weapons of Mass Destruction - Bush insisted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction but his "evidence" consisted mostly of forged documents, plagiarized student papers, and vague satellite photos. The United Nations was on the ground in Iraq and could find nothing. After extensive searches Bush was finally forced to admit that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Lie #6 - Mobile Weapons Labs - Bush and his team repeatedly claimed that Iraq possessed mobile weapons labs capable of producing anthrax. Colin Powell showed diagrams of them at his speech before the UN to justify invading Iraq. These claims originated from Curveball, a discredited Iraqi informer who fed Bush many of the stories related to WMD. On May 29, 2003, two small trailers matching the description were found in Iraq. A team of bio-weapons experts examined the trailers and concluded they were simply designed to produce hydrogen for weather balloons. But, for over a year, Bush claimed these were part of Iraq's bio-weapons program. The expert's report was suppressed and only recently made public. [WashPost] [ABC]

2. He promoted torture of prisoners of war.

The evidence below shows that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales are guilty of violating "Federal Torture Act" Title 18 United States Code, Section 113C, the UN Torture Convention and the Geneva Convention by ordering and condoning the use of torture. Many prisoners have died as a result.

On January 25, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote a memo advising the President of "the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act," a federal statute, for torturing prisoners. He advised Bush to invent a legal technicality --declaring detainees in the "war on terror" to be outside the Geneva Conventions --which, he said, "substantially reduces" the chance of prosecution. Gonzales was later promoted to US Attorney General. [Nation] Bush took Gonzales' advice and signed an order declaring that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not covered by the Geneva Convention. The memo requires that "detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." While seeming to call for humane treatment, it is carefully worded to allow for violations of the Geneva Convention when necessary.

Bush moved prisoners to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and held them for years without charges, trials, or access to lawyers. This was ruled illegal by a Federal Judge on Jan 31, 2005.
Bush set up secret prisons run by the CIA in foreign countries to escape US laws against torture.

On September 26, 2002, Canadian Maher Arar was arrested at JFK airport and sent to secret prison in Syria for torture under "extraordinary rendition" program. He was released a year later without charges. He sued the US government but the suit was dismissed by a federal judge David Trager on 2/17/06 citing the need for secrecy. He wrote, "One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria." Thus the reason for the secrecy is not for national security but simply to avoid embarassing guilty parties in government. This sets a dangerous precedent that may allow Bush to kidnap and torture anyone he pleases.

On December 31, 2003, German national Khaled al-Masri says he was abducted by the CIA arrested in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan. He was then tortured for five months and released. CIA has admitted making a mistake in this case.

In April 2004, photos of prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison made headlines around the world. [Wikipedia] [NewYorker]

On May 24, 2004, Seymour Hersh released an article detailing how Rumsfeld's program encouraged torture. "President Bush was informed of the existence of the program, the former intelligence official said." [NewYorker]

In October 2005, Senator McCain added an amendment to a defense bill that would outlaw torture by the United States. Bush and Cheney fought over this amendment. When Bush signed the bill he added a signing statement that basically says he can ignore the prohibition against torture under his powers as "unitary executive" and "Commander in Chief ."

On June 29, 2006 the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Geneva Convention applies to prisoners at Guantanamo.

3. He authorized illegal wiretaps on American Citizens, spying on Americans.

Bush has admitted to authorizing the NSA, a secretive spy agency, to conduct warrantless wire taps on American citizens. The spying even extends to postal mail. The NSA has also been collecting phone records in an attempt to build a database of every phone call that is made.

On August 18, 2006, in a response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the wiretaps are unconstitutional.

The Bush wiretaps violated US law because he was required to get approval from FISA. He can start a wiretap of a suspected terrorist at any time but must then seek approval to continue within 72 hours.

Attorney General Gonzales claims HJR114 gave Bush authority to conduct the wiretaps. But HJR114 only grants use of the "Armed Forces". HJR114 does not explicitly suspend the Constitution. Also HJR114 requires "The President shall, at least once every 60 days, submit to the Congress a report on matters relevant to this joint resolution, including actions taken pursuant to the exercise of authority granted in section 3". Congress was not notified of these wiretaps. [HJR114]

Bush may have bypassed FISA because he wanted to listen to and analyze all international signals, not just those of suspected terrorists. He knew this was blatantly illegal so he hid it.

Bush says "We use FISA still. But FISAs is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect." Then later "There is a difference between detecting, so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it's important to note the distinction between the two." The distinction is that "detecting" requires listening to lots of calls with a computer to see if someone says certain keywords like "bomb" in Arabic, or maybe even "impeach Bush" in English. Monitoring is listening to a specific suspected terrorist. The problem with detection is that you have to listen to all calls, including yours and mine. [This NY Times article confirms this interpretation. Also CNN.]

More evidence that Bush wants to listen to all signals is in Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War," on page 303. " Bush summarized his strategy: 'Listen to every phone call and close them down and protect the innocents.'" [WaPost]

James B. Comey, acting Attorney General, refused to sign an authorization for the NSA program because it "did not comply with the law". On March 10th, 2004, Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card tried to bypass Comey be getting a disoriented John Ashcroft to sign an authorization from his hospital bed. Comey rushed to the hospital to stop them. On March 11th, Bush intervened personally to get the Justice Department to authorize the program. [NYTimes]

Investigators may have found that Bush applied for an expansion of wiretap capability from FISA, was rejected, and then went ahead and did it anyway. [FindLaw] [FAS]
Bush claimed going through FISA is too slow but legal emergency wiretaps helped capture terrorist Mosquera.

According to a report in USA Today, the NSA is collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans - most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders. The stated goal is to be able to identify who is involved in a network of terrorists. But this same technique can be used to determine who is involved in a network of political activists who might, for example, oppose the Bush administration. Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits. All of the major telecommunications companies cooperated with this program except for Qwest. Joe Nacchio, CEO of Qwest, was troubled by the fact that there was no FISA approval and that the program was so pervasive.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I've done something drastic

I did something I never thought I would do.

It took real guts and daring -- more than I ever thought I had.

It started when I looked at a photo of me showing my profile.

No, it was not the pot belly I saw that caused me to join -- and use -- a health club.

Or go on a diet.

It was my beard.

So white!

I mean really white.

I look at myself in the mirror and it is not so bad. I see lots of black and a little gray.

But the side -- what the heck happened? Am I growing older faster on the side of my face?

So there I was walking in the grocery store, and after looking for several minutes for the hair dye, I happened to come across, quite by accident, the hair dyes.

"Just for Men."

Specifically for beards.

I followed the directions with fear and trembling, as if I was trapped on a deserted island, about to do remove the appendix from a fellow castaway.

But this was worse, obviously.

I was about to do this to myself.

I squeezed a little dab from tube one and then a little dab from tube two and mixed the two. Using the brush that was provided, I applied it to my beard.

Not much happened, so I kept applying.

Still nothing, so I applied more.

Then I noticed all the gray was gone.

In fact, the skin beneath the beard was now black!

I jumped into the shower (which was supposed to be the next step anyway) and began to shampoo vigerously.

OK, much to my relief the skin appeared normal. But the beard was black with just a hint of gray. I would have liked to have had a little more gray showing.

After all, I don't want anyone to notice what I have done. Such vanity.

I look like my old self. Like the 1996 old self.

I like it.

Hmmm. Maybe next week I'll do something about the pot belly.

Nahhh. No need to get too vain :)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Space Shuttle launch

This is a photo I took of today's space shuttle launch, as viewed from far South of the launch pad -- Miami. Actually, it was closer to Ft. Lauderdale. Right along I-75. I was looking dead north, from the south side of I-75, across from Markham Park near State Road 84. The flat land is the edge of the Everglades. The shuttle looks like a typical jet contrail, so I added the box to help you find it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Future General Assembly Requirements


From now on, all General Assemblies must be held in cities with Major League Baseball teams.

Restaurants MUST be in walking distance.

The only talk about sex and ordination at General Assembly should be something dirty my wife whispers to me.

Bloggers should have a designated space in the exhibition hall so we can meet face to face.

Solitare games must be removed from Commissioners laptops -- don't commissioners know the press sit right behind them?


My Presbytery Executive walks up to me and has to be introduced to me. "Oh, I didn't recognize you now that you have grown a beard," she tells me. Should I say, "Yep, grew it in 1971?" I've been on Presbytery Council. COM. CPM. I'm at Presbytery office almost every month. Geeee....


OK, I'm home. I'm ready to celebrate the fact that the Miami Heat is the BEST team in the NBA.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Evaluating the Moderator

I supported Joan Gray for Moderator, but it is sometimes painful to watch her moderate the General Assembly. Vice Moderator Wilson is doing a much better job.

She needs to move more quickly if we are to finish on time -- well, this is not the first time that's been said of a moderator of a GA.

She often recognizes two negatives or two positives in a row -- it is supposed to be alternating pros and cons among the speakers and debators.

She often - very often - loses her place in what we are voting for, mistaking a call for the question vote as a vote on the main motion -- but that is one reason we have Cliff sitting next to her.

She does not do well in the press conferences. "She waffles" is a comment I've heard from the More Light Presbyterians, and I think they may be right. She avoids clear answers because clear answers upset one side or the other -- well, vague answers frustrate everyone.

A buddy of mine who knows Joan told me today, "She's no Rick." Well, Rick was a great moderator. He didn't do all that well at the GA meeting and often needed Cliff's help. Perhaps Joan will shine after the meeting of GA.

Parker Williamson And Others Start Process For Split In Church

I stood in the hallway last night. We were in front of the Press Room, waiting for a press conference that was to follow the evening's decision on the PUP report. Parker Williamson was there, having conversation in hushed tones, giving careful instructions to a group of people on how they were to orchestrate what today's online edition of the Presbyterian Layman called "an impromptu press conference." The writer says there were more than 100 present. Try 48.

Distributing a prepared statement, the group declared, "This recent decision marks a profound deviation from Biblical requirements, and we cannot accept, support or tolerate this decision."

When asked if this meant schism, Parker Williamson declared schism had already happened.

So who is leading the split?

Rev. Richard Burnett, of Constitutional Presbyterians
Rev. Paul Gaug, of Evangelical Presbyterian Pastors Fellowship
Rev. Robert Pitman, of Knox Fellowship
Rev. Sid Rice, of Literacy & Evangelism, International
Rev. David Henderson of the New Wineskins Initiative
Rev. Dean Weaver, of the New Wineskins Initiative
Kristin Johnson, MDiv., of OneByOne
Alan Wisdom, of Presbyterian Action
Terry Schlossberg, of the Presbyterian Coalition
Rev. Susan Cyre, of Presbyterians for Faith, Family & Ministry
Rev. Michael Walker, of Presbyterians For Renewal
Rev. Parker Williamson, of the Presbyterian Lay Committee
Elder Marie Bowen, of Presbyterians Pro-Life
Rev. Brad Long, of Presbyterian Reformed Ministries, International

At the top of the list is the name of Richard Burnett, who is the Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Erskine Theological Seminary. He identified himself as a spokesman for the Constitutional Presbyterians. One of the things that organization calls for is for churches to ask, "What will be the future relationship between this session or presbytery and the P.C.(U.S.A.)?"

The Constitutional Presbyterians also urge churches to "evaluate" their giving -- which I take to mean "don't give to the PCUSA." He highlights the work of the new Presbyerian Global Fellowship. I've wondered what this organization was all about. They claim on their web page that "Presbyterian Global Fellowship is not an effort to start a new denomination or to write a new constitution." But with this association with Constitutional Presbyterians, I wonder.

So what did we decide?

According to the Miami Herald: "A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national assembly voted Tuesday to create some leeway for gay clergy and lay officers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban on partnered gay ministers. A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise."

In other words, not much has changed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A gift to the church

Our standards have not changed -- that is the phrase I keep hearing now that we have adopted the PUP report.

Hopefully, people will accept this and move on with being the church.

As Marge Carpenter, former moderator, said on the floor of the GA, "I'm tired of this conflict. It's getting in way of the church, in the way of mission, in the way of evangelism."

The PUP report has been called a gift to the church. Let's accept it as a gift and move on.

Will We Split

Later today we have the PUP report -- the Peace, Unity and Purity task force report.

I have a fantasy that the report will be approved without debate.

I have a fear that it will be passed by a small margin and that some of the ultra conservatives will split the church. The forces are gathering now for a split. The ground work is being laid.

Professors at Erskine Theological Seminary are sowing seeds -- but I'm not sure for what. Erskine is an ARP seminary -- Associate Reforemed Presbyterian Seminary. Are these professors trying to open the door to their denomination in the hopes that the ultra conservative PCUSA will leave and join them?

Who knows.

And then there is the Layman newspaper. They are talking openly with people about how to pull their congregations out of the denomination with their property.

I lack wisdom to know what will happen.

But I still will remain a minister of the Presbyterian Church USA, and I hope that we will be at peace, have unity, and with both of those somehow find purity.

Monday, June 19, 2006

There is no decent place to eat here!

I've been to several General Assemblies, but I don't remember one that was in a place like this.

There are no decent places to eat here!

The few that are within walking distance are swamped at meal time.

The grill in the Sheraton Hotel takes forever! AND they have a tendancy to lose orders.

And the prices! I feel like I'm eating in a football stadium -- at least that is the price I'm paying for a burger or hot dog.

I do like the Fish Market however -- but to get there you do have to drive :(

Anyone want to meet me for a picnic?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Lord Was Praised

Occasionally worship in my church does not go as planned. The sound system is off. The choir sputters. The Lay Leader loses his place. The sermon falls flat. As I leave the Sanctuary and head for the nearest restaurant, I might exchange glances with the Associate Pastor or the Music Director. "It will be better next week," we seem to say to each other. If we actually say anything, it is often, "The Lord was praised inspite of us."

The highlight for most people attending General Assembly is the worship service. Not all of the little services, but the one big Communion service on Sunday.

As electric guitars played, the choir was unheard until the second or third stanza.

When Robert Wilson led us in prayer, his mike was so poorly adjusted that all we could hear was his breathing until one of the sound team finally brought him a handheld mike.

Communion is usually served by intinction with people getting up and going to a station for the bread and wine, but here the elements were distributed as we remained in our seats -- a bit awkward for some. Volunteers in my section didn't seem to know what to do and I think a row in front of us was missed.

There were a few other glitches, but all in all, the Lord was praised in spite of human frailties.

The choirs were terrific. One group from Africa was particularly good. Yes, the Lord was praised.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

All Of It Is Important

No grand gathering today at General Assembly. Everyone goes into his or her committee, where they will work until tomorrow or Saturday. The commissioners won't gather as a single body again until Monday.

As the committees discuss their business, some of their concerns will be boring. Some will be exciting.

It is all important.

Take "Divestment" for example.

There is a big billboard that commissioners can see as they drive to the Civic Center where the Assembly meets -- "Divestment is not the Road to Peace" -- or something like that.

"What's divestment," Mrs. Apostle John asked me. "Isn't that when Presbytery takes someone's ordination away?"

Well, not in this case.

"Divestment" is a hot button -- one of several at General Assembly.

When it came up in 2004, I thought, "how boring. No one will pay any attention to this."


Let someone mention divestment and people begin to raise their voices, jab index fingers into another person's chest and make bold declarations that often begin with the phrase, "The trouble with you people..."

What is divestment?

The Presbyterian Layman will tell you that divestment is a "resolution called on the denomination to begin phased, selective divestment of corporations that do business with Israel."

Not quite!

Shame on you Layman -- must you always bend the truth?

Divestment is a plan that was approved in 2004 for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest its holdings in companies profiting from Middle East conflict and war.

It is a complicated issue that is made more complex because for many it is an emotional issue.

Yesterday I listened Dr. Judea Pearl implore the Presbyterian Church not to continue with the plan for divestment. Standing with several Jewish men in front of a banner that read, "End Divestment Now," Pearl frequently lost his place in his manuscript. He spoke in angry tones about how the Presbyterian Church has betrayed him and his people.

Pearl is the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded in Pakistan by Islamic terrorists.

In his mind, divestment empowers the Islamic terrorists.

Today, however, I attended a committee meeting that was addressing the issue of whether or not to continue the plan for divestment. One Presbyterian elder, speaking in favor of divestment said, "I can't understand the conflict in the Middle East, and never will. It is beyond my understanding. I don't have the wisdom to know how peace can be established there. But one thing I know, as a church we should not be making money off of the suffering of any people."

Betty Dobson told the committee, "I have no credentials. I'm not a politician or a military strategist. I'm just an American and an elder. Our church went to the Middle East for a short term mission. I stayed in the home of a Palestinian family who lived in fear of a knock at the door and a message that they would have to immediately vacate their as-yet-unfinished home so it could be bulldozed by Israel."

It is not a simple issue.

It is one filled with tragedy and dispair and fear and confusion.

One way or the other, the General Assembly will vote on whether or not to continue divestment.

Someone will rejoice.

Someone will be angry.

Whatever the decision, these pastors and elders who vote will certainly do so prayerfully and with a heavy heart at the stories they have heard.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Who is Blogging GA?

Who else is blogging at General Assembly? I started blogging GA in 2000, and I think there was only one other blogger doing the same from Long Beach that year. Now there seem to be several.

There is an elder commissioner from New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Stuart Hill is not at GA, but had sad thoughts at Joan's election.

Terry is an alternate commissioner, and is observing GA. He was also saddened by Joan's election.

Tom is an observer at GA, and he is also saddened by the election of Joan.

Pastor Terry is another voting commissioner.

Colby from Minnesota is also blogging away.

The Eagle and Child is blogging from Birgminham, I believe.

Cheesehead and St Casserole are rooming together.

Quotidian Grace wishes she could be here, but she is doing the next best thing. She is taking it in via streaming video.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We have a new moderator in our church -- Joan Gray

We have a new moderator -- Joan Gray.

It was not an easy process.

First, there were technical difficulties involving everyone's laptop.

Gone are the notebooks filled with two reams of paper -- we now have LES and a wireless network so we can view documents on screens.


One vote tonight was: all those who have their laptop systems working vote yes, if it is not working, vote no.

The NOs had it by a slim margin.

Fortunately, laptops were not needed for the election of the moderator.

First came the nominating speeches. Each one was limited to 5 minutes, and a countdown on a screen reminded them of the time remaining.

The person nominating Halverson was first. She started by talking about Tim Halverson's 19 year old daughter, and as the speech ended, came back to the daughter by saying that it was 19 year old Helen Halverson who told her Dad he had to run for moderator, telling her Dad, "The church needs you."

A Native American gave the nominating speech for Joan Gray, and she began with an introductory sentence in Spanish. As she continued in English, the person nominating held up Joan's book on church government and said, "Joan not only knows church polity, she wrote the book."

The person nominating Carson said he was a very authentic person, which I found to be very true as I talked with him earlier in the day.

Block's nominator said that his favorite story of Deborah Block was from a 14 year old daughter of a pastor who said, "She is the coolest pastor I've ever known."

After the nomination speeches, the candidates were given an opportunity to give a five minute acceptance speech.

The first to speak was Tim Halverson, who gave what might have been the most dynamic speech of the four candidates. "He's got it in the bag," I thought, as he talked about the church regaining its passion to grow. One of his memorable statements came toward the end when he said, "I would rather fail at doing God's ministry than simply whine and complain that our church is deing. It is time for us to grow. It is time for us to regain our passion."

Tim Halverson was a tough act to follow, and Joan Gray was up next. She did a fair job, but it paled in comparison to Tim.

In her acceptance speech, Joan said, "Polity is not going to save us. One thing will save us and that is a God who makes a way for us." She talked repeatedly about how God makes a way. Joan talked about a church in Greater Atlanta in which God made a way for a small congregation to reach out to the homeless. In talking about her Interim ministry with conflicted churches, Joan said, "Some of them were so broken we disparied if things would ever get better. As long as we focused on fixing the problems of the church we made no progress. Only when we focused on Christ did we start to move forward. God makes a way where there is no way."

Carson's speech was fair as well. Not as dramatic as Tim's, he talked about how it was time for the church to let go of the status quo -- all it had brought us was status decline.

Then came Block, who talked about Africa in vague terms.

I was sitting with the press and a member of the secular press turned to me and said, "That was the worst speech I ever heard. Was it just me, or did that make any sense at all?"

No, it wasn't just him.

I have no clue what she was saying.

Maybe I was just tired.

Now came an hour of questions from the floor.

First from a Youth Advisory Delegate: How do you work with youth?

Halverson said, "If we were Ford Motor Company and we found out that youth didn't buy our cars, we’d ask why and talk with them and bring them in. That is what the church needs to do."

He was refreshingly brief and to the point.

Next up was Block. She was very long winded.

Throughout the question and answer period, however, Halverson seemed to lose steam. Block never shined. Carson and Gray gave consistently good, clear responses.

It was the fourth or fifth question that asked, "What is your view of the ordination of gays and lesbians."

Block gave a predictable answer, as she had been clear about this before. "I believe god calls all persons to ministry. The church has been slow to work with people of racial and gender difference. If a person who is gay or lesbian seeks ordinatin, the presbytery has the right to ordain."

Tim Halveson said, "It is not time to ordain gays and lesbians, although that is my dream."

Joan Gray spoke of her own discomfort over this issue. "I have a great deal of respect for gays and lesbians who want to be respected and called. I have not yet gotten my mind around that homosexuality is a valid lifestyle. I am uncomfortable and will remain so until God speaks and directs me." She went onto add, "The moderator acts as an officer of the church. I stand where the church stands, and if the church moves, I move.”

Kerry Carson clearly said, "I will not support an ordination of gay or lesbian."

The last question came from a man who said his 3 or 4 year old son liked to draw. "If you were to draw a child-like picture of the church two years from now, what would that picture be like?"

Gray talked about John Calvin's seal, which is a hand with a heart, and the heart is on fire -- on fire for God.

The next two candidates picked up on the imagery of hands. Kerry talked about the picture of two hands holding together, for that is what I see for the church.

Block, who had constantly talked of Africa and her experience with a short term mission there, spoke of American children's hands on a paper, along with the hand prints of African children. This prompted a secular reporter to groan, "What the hell does that mean?"

Halverson departed from the image of hands and spoke of a windmill that turns into the wind, as if turning to catch the spirit of God.

The questions ended, there was a prayer and the four candidates were escorted off stage by former moderator Susan Andrews.

The first ballot was very split. Two candidates had 22% each, and two had 28% each. Block was the leader, followed by Gray, then Halverson and finally Carson.

The second ballot had Gray leading with 40%, followed by Block at 32%. The two men had 14% each.

At the third ballot, we had a victor -- Joan Gray with 62%.

She was escorted back into the room, and those of us with press credentials were allowed to stand in a certain spot to get a photo of her walking by. I got a great shot of former moderator Susan Andrews as she escorted Joan into the assembly hall. If you look carefully, you can see Joan in the background.

Joan was installed as the new moderator. Roger Wilson was confirmed as the new Vice Moderator. There were words of appreciation to the retiring officers, and an exchange of gifts for them for the good work they have done.

Family Reunion

Every other year the national level of our church gathers in what we call the General Assembly.

Is it like a conference? Is it like a business meeting? Is it like congress? Is it like Hell for those who hate long meetings?

I like to think of it as a "Family Reunion."

I have seen some of the "close kin folk" I often see -- I saw Arlene from Presbytery office, Bart from the church down the road from where I serve, Charlie who is an elder I see at every presbytery meeting. All "close relatives."

I am also running into some of the "distant cousins" I don't see often.

"ApostleJohn," I hear from a distance (OK, they actually called me by my real name, but no need to trouble you with what that is). "I haven't seen you in ages. Merri Bass talks about you all the time."

I know Merri Bass -- wife of the late Dick Bass who was the Exec in Savannah Presbytery. She's now at Montreat. But who the heck are you and why are you saying "hi" to me?

It is because I'm speaking to a distant cousin.

And there are other distant cousins -- missionaries back from the field, friends from other presbyteries, seminary class mates and such.

I'm as happy to see them as I am to see the close kin folk.

It is part of what makes a church.

I'm not just part of a congregation that meets in a specific building.

I'm part of something larger. Something national. Something global.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

My Endorsement of Joan Gray for Moderator of General Assembly

General Assembly meets this week. This is the national level of the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of the first actions will be Thursday's election of a moderator.

The moderator presides, or "moderates," over the large gathering of voting commissioners during the several days of the assembly. But the moderator does more. He or she becomes the most visible leader of our denomination until the next General Assembly, scheduled for 2008.

There are four candidates.

I predict a winner --- Joan Gray.

Why Gray?

First two of the others represent specific interest groups in the denomination. While there are exceptions, General Assembly commissioners often look for a true MODERATOR who will represent the whole church. This year, with the emphasis on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, I believe voting commissioners will be especially sensitive to the whole church.

The Rev. Deborah A. Block, a Milwaukee pastor and leader in the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that supports ordination of gays and lesbians.

The Rev. Kerry Carson of Conrad, Iowa, whose congregation is part of the Confessing Church movement that wants to hold the line on homosexual ordination.

That leaves Gray and the Rev. Tim Halverson, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral, Fla., who describes himself as a centrist. He seems like a decent fellow -- actually, they all seem like decent folk. But as I read Halverson's information online, I don't see the amount of preparation that Gray has. I don't believe he has ever moderated a governing body larger than his own congregation's session of elders.

So out of those two, why Gray?

Experience -- she has been moderator of one of the largest presbyteries of our denomination -- Greater Atlanta. She is considered an expert on church polity and structure, and is the co-author of Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers. She has been moderator of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission and a member of the PC(USA)’s Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Through five General Assemblies before and after Presbyterian reunion in 1983, she served on the Provisional Constitutional Committee. All of these are very important positions that provide Gray with insight and skill needed to be the moderator of the General Assembly.

Like the other nominees, she is a pastor (there are no lay leaders or elders in this year's group of nominees). She served seven churches in the Atlanta area --Fellowship, Oglethorpe, Columbia,
Hemphill, Good Shepherd, Smyrna, and College Park. She has served as Adjunct Faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary, Johnson C. Smith Seminary and has taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.

I've never met her, but I know the pastor of one of the Atlanta churches where she served as Interim Pastor from 2001-2003, and he affirms what many are saying about Gray -- she is a peacemaker.

For a General Assembly planning to focus on the PEACE, unity and purity of our church, having a peacemaker would be a good thing!

I also like her choice of Vice Moderator. Irv Wilson is a great choice. I've gotten to know him through his work on the Presbyterian Men. He also provides diversity. Among a slate of four nominees for moderator, all are pastors and all are White. Among the candidates for Vice Moderator, two are African-American and two are elders. Irv represents both of those groups by being the only African-American elder to run for Vice Moderator. Hence, the Gray ticket provides the single most balanced team before the General Assembly.

And there is one other reason.

She's a woman.

Normally that would not matter at all, but this is the year Presbyterians celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women as elders. I believe commissioners will be especially aware of this early in the assembly and this will add a slight, but vital, extra in Gray's favor.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

No Charlie, God is NOT calling you

Presbyterians like to talk about discerning the voice of God through the voice of the community.

I served a church in Tennessee once and found the people there were always saying, "God is telling me this or that."

Not, "I feel that God is moving me to do this or that," but that "God is telling me this or that."

My first reaction was to think, "How arrogant, that people would think that God speaks to them and no one else."

My second reaction was to think, "How dangerous."

Marty decided God was telling him to start a home for children. A year later he was angry and came to see me. "Why would God do this to me? I've lost my house, I'm in debt up to my eyeballs. I gave up my job for this. God told me to do this and now He has left me hanging."

No -- God did not tell you to do this. You WANTED God to tell you to do this, but you never actually heard the voice of God speak.

One reaction I heard was in a committee meeting. "God is telling me this or that," one of the members of the committee said. It was her way of saying, "It's my way or the highway. I'm putting God's seal of approval on my opinion so you can argue with it."

In other words, "God is telling me..." was a way of using the Lord's name in vain.

And so we come back to Charlie -- remember him from a few posts ago?

He wants to become a Presbyterian minister.

Which means that the will of God is to be discerned not by Charlie, but by the community. We trust that God who calls Charlie, will also speak to the church.

So Charlie has to have the approval of our local Session or board of elders.

The congregation's session sponsors him to go to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, which is part of the Presbytery -- which is the regional body of the Church. In our case, it is the area of South Florida.

If they say yes, he is approved by the Presbytery as an Inquirer -- it is a time of searching and evaluation. He goes to Seminary and is trained. He is continually guided and mentored -- some Presbyteries being better at this than others.

At the end of three years, he gets a Master of Divinity from Seminary, takes and hopefully passes a series of ordination exams, and becomes a candidate ready to receive a specific call.

Once he receives that call to a church or ministry, Charlie is ordained.

It is early in the process for Charlie, and everyone is hoping someone else will tell Charlie to go into another line of work.

So often we let the poor sap go through years of preparation only to be left hanging at the end with folks like Marty. Tropical Florida Presbytery, around 10 years ago, had a candidate for 11 years. Pauline finished all the requirements, except no one was calling her to serve -- and we won't ordain until that first call to ministry is given and accepted and approved. We finally told her no one would call her into ministry, and removed her from Presbytery's roll of candidates. We could have saved that lady more than a decade of her life.

We were irresponsible.

So the Session a few days ago told Charlie that we were removing our sponsorship and recommendation. He is free to seek the support of another congregation and session, but we do not hear or feel God calling him into ministry. We gave a laundry list of reasons why.

He left angry.

He will never forgive us.

But it's better than what the church did to Marty or Pauline.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Church Is A Great Investment

A woman came into my office the other day at the end of her rope. I won't go into her problems or what happened to her, but I want to focus on one thing she said to me.

"I'm so alone. I have no one."

She was right.

Her husband divorced her. Her 18 year old son is a drug addict and left home a year ago. She has no idea where he is. Her parents are long dead. No siblings. No friends.

She talked about being a Christian, but said she didn't ever go to church.

That's when it hit me -- the church is a great investment.

I mean, it costs nothing. No membership fees at all. Yes, you are asked to give, but you don't have to.

Most programs we offer are free -- even if there is a fee, if you can't pay, you can't pay. What fee do we charge? The cost of the book for a study -- but if you can't pay we still give you the book and you take the class.

Meals? We sometimes charge for events that are catered, but even then, you can't pay -- come anyway. Besides, most meals are covered dish. All you can eat, free of charge -- or at most, all you can eat in exchange for you bringing some dish to share.

But that's not the best part.

The best part is friendship.


I watch my members interact. Someone comes to church as a stranger, and by next week they are part of the family. They are going out to someone's small group meeting in a home. They join in the group to go to a baseball game -- OK, there is a charge for that one :)

Get sick, someone is fixing you a meal.

Get into trouble, someone is there by your side afterward.

Somewhere in life, beyond the kindergarden art class and the elementary playground and the high school dance and the college beer tasting event -- the ability to connect on a deep level vanishes.

You go to work and you have co-workers. Or maybe colleagues.

You go to Rotary and you have a weekly stranger you eat next to.

But go to church, and you have fellowship. Friendship.

Salvation aside -- that's a great investment.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Standing In The Way Of Someone's Ordination

I have longed to have someone in my congregation become a minister. I've encouraged, but never pushed, a parishioner to consider ministry.

It is a great life and I love it, and I occasionally meet others who seem so well suited for the ministry.

I asked Andy, when he became unemployed for the second time in a year, "Have you wondered if God is calling you to something new and different -- such as the ministry?"

"I'd be destitute," he said.

I asked Brenda, who seemed to love the church and her work on the Session.

"I don't think so," she said in a way that made me wonder if she would burst into laughter as soon as I left the room.

Charlie came to me and told me he wanted to become a minister. He went to our Session and the elders approved him to be sponsored before the Presbytery. He went to the Committee on the Preparation for Ministry of our Presbytery, and he was received as an Inquirer. He entered seminary and is on his way toward ordination.

One thing stands in his way.


I never would have imagined.

I'm not that confrontational. I like to be the good guy in life. I hate the thought of standing in the way of someone's dream.

But the more I get to know Charlie, the more I wonder if he is mentally stable. His wife is a bitter and angry woman. They seem to cause conflict wherever they go. I've caught Charlie in several small lies.

Already elders are asking if we should resind our support.

One elder who supports Charlie has said, "We have his life in our hands."

I agree -- this is serious.

Whatever we do, we have his life in our hands.

But this man shows signs of being mentally unbalanced. His wife is bitterly angry about everything in his life.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Divestment from Conflict - Investment in Peace

One of the things that excites or inflamed people about the Presbyterian Church is something called "Divestment."

Sounds so very boring.


It is a plan that was approved in 2004 for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest its holdings in companies profiting from Middle East conflict and war. So far, not a dime of our $8 billion dollar portfolio has actually been divested. But we have identified five companies that profit from the Mid-East conflicts -- Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup Inc., United Technologies Corp., Motorola Inc. and ITT Industries Inc. How much the church has invested in those companies has not been disclosed.

The companies do business that either assists the Israeli military or supports the infrastructure of Israel's West Bank settlements. Caterpillar, for instance, sells heavy equipment used in the demolition of Palestinian homes. Caterpillar says it has no control over how its products are used.

It seems to me that the issue of divestment has been largely misunderstood -- with many Jewish groups claiming Presbyterians are anti-Semitic and are divesting themselves of Israel.

As much controversy as this has created, I am pleased that the church is trying to avoid a bias toward Israel or Palestine -- but instead seeks a bias toward peace, which I believe was the intent of the 2004 proposal.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Torch Has Been Passed To A New Generation.

I found this video on another blog -- Traci Marie. She just graduated from seminary and she once wrote about her relationship with one of her professors: "without dr. hunsinger, my seminary career would have been very different. he and i became friends when i ended up in his office in tears. he listened to me rant and cry about the fact that i couldn't get out of bed in the morning because the world was falling apart. wars and rumors of more wars. torture. election defeat. i told him that i thought i was going crazy because nobody seemed to care about torture."

Except for the fact that apparently she has not yet been introduced to the concept of Upper Case Letters, she gives me hope. When the Iraqi War was about to start, I marched in protest and felt so much alone. I frequently wondered what happened to the passion of those of us who grew up in the sixties. I understand now -- "the torch has been passed to a new generation."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Why Bother God With Prayer?

caliibre said in commenting on my post A PRAYER FOR MY SON, why bother? Does prayer help?

I read his blog, and he wrote a very interesting post on prayer. At one point he referred to people of prayer as "God Botherers."

I find that to be a wonderful phrase -- wonderful in the sense that I find myself considering and meditating and pondering those two words -- God Botherers.

Images flash through my mind.

Selfish prayers for new cars and comfort.

Passionate prayers for guidance.

Unselfish prayers for others.

Trivial prayers that trivialize God -- "Dear Lord, help me find my keys."

I think of God hearing our prayers, and I ponder that phrase, "God Botherer." I picture God looking like W. C. Fields responding to prayer with Field's famous comment, "Go away kid, you bother me."

Someone once said that our prayers often reduce God to be nothing more than a cosmic bellhop who is neither very bright, nor very reliable (search the Internet and see how many different people get credit for that quote).

I suspect God may be bothered by some of our prayers.

So back to caliibre and his question, "Why bother? Does prayer help?"

I believe that while God may be bothered by some prayers, He delights in others.

Does it help? I don't care. I'm not trying to give orders to God. He is not acosmic bell hop, nor is he Barbara Eden who comes rising from the Jennie's bottle saying, "Yes Master." He's the Master and He can do as He desires.

I pray not to get my way, but to move my spirit into the way of God.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day -- Maybe

My wife is sick -- which may be a good thing because a stomach virus will help keep her from thinking about Mother's Day.

Her own mother no longer remembers who she is.

Younger Son is going through grave problems -- the best way to describe it is to say "he's a teenager" and leave it at that.

Older Son is now stationed in Europe. Next stop for him will be Iraq -- so we are hoping that this son, who is far from home on this Mother's Day, will stay where he is.

For Older Son, being stationed at an Air Force Base in Europe is an adventure.

He called today to wish his mom a happy Mother's Day. "We went to Amsterdam last weekend. I'll email you the pictures. Not this week, but two weeks from now, we're going to Switzerland. And not the next week, but two weeks from that week, we go to Paris. And then not the next week, but two weeks after that, we go to Italy. And then not the next week, but two weeks after that, we go -- well, we'll figure out something."

After his mother hung up and rolled over to go back to sleep, he and I talked about how likely it is that he will be Iraq soon. That part of the conversation is not what you want to be talking about on Mother's Day.

Well, a lot of other Mother's have it worse.

Today was a great day in worship, and we mention Mother's Day -- but we don't make a big deal of it here. We ask the newest mothers to stand and be recongnized. Same for the grandmothers and greatgrandmothers.

I looked around the Sanctuary --

Paul's mother is in Iraq.

Quincy's mother died just a few months ago.

Rachel lost her baby just days before she expected the birth of her first child. Her pain is so great right now.

Sally is so happy today -- her first Mother's Day as a mom.

Terry has three kids, all Marines. I don't know where the oldest is right now, but one is in Korea and the other is in Iraq. She may not even be able to receive a telephone call from any of them today.

And then there is me, the "Apostle John." I tried to think of how long Mom has been dead. I start with "Hmmm, must have been 10 years." But no. Oldest Son was born after she died. So I think, "Must be 23 years" -- but that can't be right because that is how old my son is.

It has been 25 years come July 13.

Can't be that long.

But it is.

That's almost half my lifetime. I think about that for a moment. I calculate at what point in time my mother will have been dead for half of my life. Then I wonder why I did that.

I think this is one reason I have turned toward flower gardening in recent years. I feel Mom and Dad close to me when I'm outside playing in the dirt. I stand with a hose and water, and I can see my Mom doing that. I prune the roses, and I see Dad at work doing the same. And when I head back into the house, I can almost hear Mom say, "Don't you track in that mud into the house."

Some holidays are supposed to be joyful, but they also have the power to evoke sadness.

I think that is fine.

Some things ought to be so precious to us that the loss or absence of them ought to be reason for sadness.

But within that sorrow there should be wonderful and joyous memories.

While wife is sick in bed, I think about those memories and slowly savor them like a fine wine.

A family vacation.

First day of school.

Cooking a big Thanksgiving meal.

A joke she once told me.

I'm interupted by the phone. "Is that Oldest Son calling again?"

Nope -- it's Oldest Son's girlfriend. She was calling to wish my wife a happy Mother's Day.

She's the first one of Oldest Son's girlfriends to do that.

A reminder, I suppose, that families go on.

I wonder -- just how long will it be before there might be a wedding.

My thoughts turn from recalling the past to envisioning the future, and I begin to slowly savor each speculation like a fine wine.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Apostle John's Top Ten List Of What To Look For At General Assembly

A lot of non-Presbyterians read this blog, so let me explain a little bit about our church. Every two years the national level of our church gathers together to do the work of the national and international ministries. We call the gathering General Assembly.

OK, that is an over simplification, but it's good enough for now.

I'm going to General Assembly -- not as a voting commissioner but to observe and report -- and hopefully interpret in a correct and understandable way. I've done this for five previous General Assemblies. This year's General Assembly meets in Birmingham Alabama in mid-June.

One of the leaders of our denomination, Cliff Kirkpatrick, gives an annual top ten list of important up-coming events of the General Assembly.

He does a good job, but I always pout my own together -- in part because my congregation and I are interested in special and unique interests.

Every Presbyterian pastor and elder should take a look at the business before the General Assembly and come up with their own top ten.

Here is mine...

1. The Election of a New Moderator for General Assembly
This happens every year, but I believe this year will be the most crucial. We have 4 who have been nominated and they are all excellent -- but my personal favorite is Joan Gray. Why Joan? First, I know her. Second, she is a peacemaker who works well amidst conflict. Our denomination is often in conflict.

2. Peace, unity, and purity of the church
Our denomination will either come through the General Assembly more divided or more united because of the report being presented by the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The report seeks to lead us into “peace, unity and purity” (as our ordination vows require of ministers, deacons and elders), but many on both the very liberal and very conservative sides of our church are rejecting this report.

3. The creation of the office of Minister of Education
There are extensive changes being proposed in the Book of Order that would call for a 4th ordained office – in addition to the Minister of the Word and Sacrament, Deacon and Elder, the new office would be the Minister of Education. There is also a proposal for an office of Educating Elder.

4. Divestment -- Are we working for peace? Do we hate Israel? Yikes - what a controversy.
The General Assembly of 2004 called for the church to "initiate the process of selective, phased divestment" from corporations the PC(USA) believes are impeding peace in the Middle East by profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the construction of the security barrier in Israel/Palestine, which many likened to the Berlin Wall. Many Jewish leaders called the church’s action anti-semitic and there was a great deal of misinformation in the secular press about this divestment. Over 20 overtures follow up on this action, most calling for an end to this divestment.

5. Haiti
General Assembly is full of things that some are passionate about, while others could not care less about. This is one such issue. Many will pay little attention to an overture being presented by the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, but our congregation has a vibrant interest in Haiti. We have regular mission trips to Haiti and several of our members are Haitian. The overture calls on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to “express to the president and the Congress of the United States of America the church’s concern for the people of Haiti, to request the president and the Congress to address the political and social situation in Haiti with the resources available to our nation, to provide for welcome and relief for Haitian refugees, and to cease the current practice of immediate deportation of those who are attempting to escape the horror that exists in that troubled country.”

6. A New Provision for Immigrant Ministers.
Because of our congregation’s interest in immigrant ministry, we know from first hand experience some of the unique difficulties this ministry presents. Here in Tropical Florida we are always working with immigrant ministries, and a little bit of permissive elbow room would help. One of the overtures for a change in the Book of Order makes such transitions easier. The overture would amend G-11.0404 by adding a new section G-11.0404g: “In the case of immigrant ministries, presbyteries shall have broad latitude to recognize the ordination of ministers coming from developing countries with different practices of ordination and to recognize the ‘good standing’ of such ministers when it is attested to by members of their own communion or by members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The presbytery may, by three-fourths vote of those present, enroll such a minister as a member of the presbytery."

7. Financial and organizational concerns
The growing financial crisis at all levels of the church will be addressed with proposed budget reductions and new structures to carry out the work of the church at the General Assembly level.

8. What to do with G-6.0106b
What the heck is a G-whatever? It is a reference to a part of our church's rule book -- the Book of Order, which says deacons, elders and ministers have to be faithful in marriage or celebate in singleness. It is viewed as a restriction against ordaining active and self-proclaiming homosexuals. A substantial number of overtures are calling for the removal of this constitutional provision.

9. Building Relationships With Two Other Presbyterian Denominations
For the first time, the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church (USA) will be meeting concurrently with assemblies of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America. There is no move toward organic union with these two smaller groups, but we often work well together in mission and publications or resources. While the business meetings will be held separately, there will be many worship and fellowship events held in common.

10. Anniversaries of Women in Ministry
This year is the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women as elders and the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as ministers of the Word and Sacrament. This will be a significant focus at the assembly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Remembering The Magic Of My Toys

I read something in someone else's blog.

She wrote, "I wish I had known the last time I was going to play as a child in the bathtub w/my ship and the little people. I used to have such a good time!! I wish I knew the last time I was going to play in the sandbox my dad made for me too. I used to LOVE playing in there. It was red, and had a cover, and was under a tree to give us some shade. I wish I knew the last time I was going to ride my childhood bike with the banana seat, and the girlie basket w/flowers. Just one are too big." I remember the day my toy soldiers turned to plastic.

They used to have a magic about them.

They weren't moveable. You couldn't dress them in different clothing. G.I.Joe's came out while I was a child, but most of the toys were simple. They were small plastic figures of men.
They came in several races. Not white or black, but green -- or whatever color their uniform came in.

Americans were green.

Japanese were beige.

Germans were light green, I think.

Russians were blue.

They were all World War II soldiers, which was great because everyone's Dad fought or did something in World War II. They were the living heroes of my youth and I always loved hearing their stories.

I would line up the soldiers and prepare them for battle. A crumpled piece of paper -- perhaps some old homework -- became a giant bolder. A baseball cap became a mountain. If I played outside, blades of grass were trees.

There were men who looked through binoculars, all sharing the exact same pose.

There were bazooka men, all kneeling in the exact same fashion.

There were men on the ground, aiming a rifle, in the exact same manner.

But they were somehow different. Each had a personality. Each represented somebody who was alive and struggling to keep the world safe.

It would take time to set up the battlefield, then the guns would fire.

Bullets could only travel on my finger tips.

A man would fire when I touched the end of his rifle, and in slow motion, my finger would move across the battlefield to find a victim, who would fall. Although he'd been lifeless before, he somehow became truly lifeless now.

The Americans would always win.

I packed my toy soldiers away when we moved to Georgia. I was in the 7th grade and that was the year I discovered an alternate universe called reality. David and I bought our fist Playboy magazine, and I've been in love with Dee Dee Lind ever since. He and I decided it was time for us to start dating, and since we didn't want to date each other, we double dated taking Mary and Kay to the movies to see "To Sir, With Love." I tried my first cigarette. I drank a few sips of Vodka.

Somehow in that move to Georgia, childhood was never unpacked.

I found my toy soldiers when we moved to South Carolina a year later. I took them out and set them up in a great, final battle.

When my father walked in, he knew he'd embarrassed me. He assured me that it was all right for an 8th grader to play with toys and quickly left me alone with my toys.

But it was too late.

The magic was gone.

They weren't men. They were pieces of plastic, nothing more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This is the Body of Christ, Broken for You

"The body of Jesus Christ, broken for you, take and eat."

I said these words over and over as people walked to the Table to receive the Sacrament.

Some people take just a tiny crumb from the loaf of bread and dip it gently into the bread. It is as if they are afraid to come to close to the sacred. "We are unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table," will be the words of the prayer I will use at the end of the Sacrament, and it is as if these are people who know too well their unworthiness.

Others will come and take a large chunk of the bread and drench the bread with wine from the chalice. It is as if they are starving for spiritual food.

My son comes through the line. There are three elders with me serving the Sacrament, each holding one half of a broken loaf, or holding a chalice of wine.

He comes and takes the bread.

It is a tiny piece.

"The body of Jesus Christ, broken for you, take and eat."

He does not look at me as he takes the bread, and he moves onto the elder next to me to dip the bread into the wine.

He was in tears when we drove up to the church. I know it is a difficult thing for him to do, to cry in front of his father. Sixteen is such a difficult time. And like many of the things that overwhelm him, it was such a small thing.

People think pastors and their families are perfect.

We are not.

We are frail.

We sin.

We say hurtful things.

We do hurtful things.

We are human.

We laugh.

And sometimes we cry at the Table of the Lord.

I had been waiting for almost two weeks to share some advice with him. On the way to church the opportunity finally presented itself. But the gulf between an adult and a teenage child is so vast. He has no idea how much I understand what he is going through. Soft words of counsel sound to him like harsh words of criticism. I know that he is not stupid, but I also know that he lacks wisdom and experience. These will come only with pain and suffering.

It would be a lot easier if he would listen.

But he won't.

Growing up takes time. No matter how much others around want to help, it is something one must do at one's own pace, and along one's own unique path.

My son attended the first service, and then disappeared for the day. His absence worries me throughout the other services.

Throughout the morning, people chat with me about their lives.

Anne says her daughter's pregnancy is not going well. She is dehydrated and ill, and eating poorly.

Bakers have bought a new house and asked me to conduct a blessing on their home.

Charlie and Donna have brought their 14 year old nephew into their home. He was being used by his guardian as free labor in an abusive setting until the boy almost committed suicide. Now they are going to become the legal guardians.

Ed is having some difficulties with his daughter as the family adjusts to Ed's divorce.

A family came and asked me to conduct a baptism for their child.

Fran tells me that her father will not be going to the Senior's feast, and he probably needs to go.

Georgia was not in church, but her mother tells me she is doing very poorly.

I conducted a new members class between services.

I attended the the youth group meeting this evening.

My son and I watched a baseball game on television.

So many concerns, but the one who concerns me most is my son.

Family life is not easy -- not for pastors. Not for anyone.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Prayer for my Son

Almighty God,
Watch over my child.

In an age of violence, teach him peace.
Fill his soul with harmony rather than discord.
Protect him from injury, harm and sudden death at the hands of others.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
In an age of materialism, selfishness, and greed,
Let him see beyond the things of this world so that he may see a glimpse of things spiritual.
Let him value others above himself.
Let him seek wisdom above wealth.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
In an age of lust, let him know love.
In an age of gratification, let him know restraint.
Keep him sexually chaste and self controlled.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
As he grows, guide him.
As he stumbles, hold him.
In his times of anger, love him.
In his times of fear, touch him.
In his times of foolishness, teach him.
When he strays from your path, retrieve your lost sheep.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Do not grant all the desires of his heart,
But grant all the needs of his soul.
Let him know sacrifice and discipline
So that he may know strength and faith.
As gold is placed in fire to be refined,
Give my child pain and suffering
So that he may lose those things in his heart and mind that are harmful to his soul.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Give him love for the beauty of the world you have made.
Give him love for the family and friends.
Give him love for the stranger in his midst.
And above all, give him love for you,
That he may know you,
Serve you,
And glorify you.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Forgive his parents when they have failed in the nurture of this child,
And quiet their worries and fears.
May they, trusting in your love for their child,
find rest and peace in the knowledge that you are with him.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Murder Suicide

(This happened a while back, but I've been waiting to post my feelings about it because I did not want anyone searching the Internet in an effort to figure out who I'm writing about).

As far as I know, I have never met the woman.

In fact, even as I write my diary entry, I cannot remember her name. Her brother is a member of the church. John and his wife Sherry have been to the church twice since the attendance records have been kept. They came for their daughter's baptism, in 1992, and for their son's baptism, in 1994.

John and Sherry have not been in church since I've been the pastor here.

I called Maria, the mother of the woman who died.

The woman died 2 days ago. She was killed by her husband, a police officer. They were married in a Las Vegas wedding five weeks ago. When she returned from her honeymoon, her body was covered with bruises. She admitted to her family that her husband was abusive. Ten days after the wedding, the woman had moved out. Then a few days ago, the husband convinced her to join him for a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, which she did. They were going to talk about their relationship.

The woman left her parents' home at 10:30 AM.

At 3:30 PM, she called her mother and asked for help to get home.

Ten minutes later, the parents were in the car and beginning a 3 to 4 hour trip.

But even then it was too late. Five minutes after making the call, the woman had been killed by her husband, who then put the gun to his head and took his own life.

I will do the funeral Monday.

What a tragedy.

(My diary's entry for the following day)

I listened to the stories of the family and wondered how it could have happened. All the signs were there, but the family was not knowledgeable enough to understand. The man abused her violently.

Before they were married, he bought an engagement ring. Then he took her to the jewelry store and showed her a ring. The woman said it was too large and said she wanted to see others. When they returned home, the man pulled out the ring he'd bought earlier. It was exactly the same ring style as she had rejected earlier, and again she said she needed a smaller style. To this he picked up a chair and threw it at her and broke several glass shelves.

When the family confronted him about his violence, he begged them not to tell the police, because it would mean immediate termination from his job on the police force. "And if that happened, I'd have to kill myself."

This is just one of many clues to how sick this man was.

I will be doing her funeral Monday afternoon.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mary Has Died

Mary died at 3:12 AM. Jim had left at 1:00 AM. The family had set a limit of midnight last night, so I assume Jim was reluctant. Later in the day, when I visited the family, I found a way to sharing with them that some people won't leave until the family leaves. It had been the case with my own mother. She did not want to die with me and Dad around. "What's important," I said, "Is that you were always there in life, when it was really important."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Standing on Holy Ground

I stood on holy ground. Gathered around Mary's bed were her husband, children, and sons and daughters in law. And me.

I arrived at 11 AM. I'd visited Vernell at Jackson Hospital. She had returned to the hospital in her ongoing battle with cancer. We'd had a long visit and when I left I called to check in with the office. Before I made it to the next stop, Hialeah Hospital, my secretary was calling me to tell me that Mary Jean had called to tell us that her mother was dying.

I went to the 6th floor to find one of Mary's sons in the hallway. Jay told me, "Mom's getting ready to pass away."

We walked to the bed in the intensive care unit. I spoke to everyone for a few minutes, and then had prayer with the family gathered around the bed.

There is nothing more that can be done for Mary, and she is returned to her semi private room so the family can gather around her.

We wait.

At times her heart rate slows to 30, and there is a minute or more between breaths. But still she hangs onto life.

Before I know it, I have been with the family for 3 hours.

The nurses administer morphine to keep her comfortable. They begin with a rate of 2 cc, then increase it to 3, then 6, then 10. It is a form of euthanasia. The morphine will keep her comfortable, but it will also hasten death.

Yet it does not.

There is no small talk around the room. Often times, there is. It is a way of finding comfort in the face of death. This family, however, simply waits in silence. I watch them from a corner. There are times when I can tell one is in prayer. Jim sits constantly at his wife's side, holding her hand. Jay strokes her hair. Mary Jean rubs her hand. Kenny paces slightly. George and Harriet are in laws, and they are often outside in another waiting area. From time to time, one of the children speaks to Mary, talking about love, or telling her, "It's OK."

And it is.

In this circle of a family, they don't need a minister. They are ministering to each other.

But I stay anyway, feeling welcomed to this most sacred place.

From time to time I find myself in the hallway with one, or in a lobby with another. There are times of one on one pastoral care. Each seems to have some important comment to share, a story to tell about Momma, or a question about what happens next.

By 8:00, Mary is still alive.

It cannot be much longer, but we've been saying that for a long time. The family suggests that I go ahead and tend to my own family, and they thank me for having been there throughout the day. So I leave. I would like to stay, but they are right. It is not necessary. God is there, and they are there for one another. They have all they need for the facing of this hour.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Last Suppers - Leonardo, Dali, and the Last Bar-B-Que

I have been thinking a lot about da Vinci's painting, "The Last Supper." Yes, I did read the Da Vinci Code. I thought it was entertaining, but I also thought it contained a lot of what my son and I call, "Baloney Factor" -- stuff that may not be true, but you have to accept it to enjoy the story.

Whatever Dan Brown says in his fictional work, I've been studying the Last Supper as portrayed by Leonardo.

So, is Mary Magdalene really in the painting? I don't think so. Maybe the one traditionally identified as John does look like a woman, but the real painting is in pretty bad shape.

I don't think so.

Take a look at his sketch, "Angel in the Flesh." You see a woman's face, almost identical to the face of John or Mary at the Lord's Supper. Same feminine facial features. A hint of a woman's breast. Look futher south and it is obvious that angel is fully male.

Leonardo was painting John as the youngest apostle, and in doing that, he did what artists did in that period -- portrayed youthful males as having feminine features.

Mary Magdalene was at the Last Supper, but Leonardo only painted Christ and his 12 apostles.

The more I learn about this painting, the more I see.

All lines focus on the head of Christ as the center of the painting.

The Trinity is evident throughout -- three windows and the groupings of all apostles in groups of three are two that are most evident.

I've not seen the actual painting, but I'm told by those who have that the painting produces a sort of illusion. Painted on the wall of a refectory (or convent dining room), it was in fact intended to appear an extension of the room itself; the effect is achieved by the painting's perspective, which matches the lines of the actual room.

Christ is seated with a window behind him, thus the light of daylight gives a sort of halo -- the only one in the painting.

Christ forms a triangle with his body, like the Virgins of Adoration of the Magi or Virgin of the Rocks; his disciples form rippling waves.

He has just announced that one of them will betray him, but he has not yet indicated that it is Judas. Each disciple is eager to acquit himself or identify the future traitor.

Grouped into threes, the disciples on the far right recoil in surprise, while the next group leans toward Christ with curiosity; each group has a slightly different reaction to the news.

Generally, the hands of the disciples contradict the movement of their bodies, giving the whole composition a flowing circuit that always leads back to the center.

At the viewer's far left are Bartholomew, James the Lesser and Andrew, forming the first group of three. All are surprised. Andrew holds both of his hands up in a "stop!" gesture. There is a knife that is pointing away from Christ, and it is aimed at Bartholomew. In many Last Supper paintings of this and earlier eras, the knives pointed toward Judas. Here it points toward Bartholomew, perhaps a reminder of the legend that says he was martyred after being skinned alive.

Judas, Peter and John form another group of three. Judas is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken back by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag of silver, given to him as payment to betray Jesus. Peter looks angry; perhaps foreshadowing Peter's reaction in Gethsemane. Much has been said about the knife not appearing to belong to anyone at the table, but close examination reveals that it is an extension of Peter's body.

In the next triad, which is to Christ's right from the viewer's perspective, are Thomas, James Major and Philip. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.

Finally we come to the last triad: Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

(These names are all agreed upon by art historians. In the 1800's a manuscript was found with their names; before this only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified).

Dan Brown makes a major point of talking about how there was no single chalice, but several cups. In this chapel painting from the 1300's, there is no single cup, but several.

In this work, I believe Judas is at Christ's left side, as this individual seems to be dipping bread into a bowl. In Mark 14:20, Jesus has told the apostles that he will be betrayed. They want to know who it is, and Jesus says, "It is one of the Twelve, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me."

These apostles are also emotionless, and one of the things Leonardo did was to show, for the first time, an emotional Last Supper.

Duccio di Buoninsega painted the Supper between 1308 and 1311. It also shows many cups.

And again, the people gathered around the table all seem without emotion.

Christ is framed as the centerpiece of this work, although not as effectively as in Leonardo's work.

I do not believe this is Judas at Christ's left in this painting, but John. This figure looks to be the youngest, and John was usually painted that way. Without this figure dipping bread into a bowl, this individual reminds me of John's Gospel, where it is noted that the Beloved Disciple " had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, 'Lord, who is going to betray you?'" (John 21:20)

Giotto di Bondone painted his Last Supper between 1304 and 1306. Most obvious to me is the black halo that all apostles share, while Christ has one that is gold. Christ is far from the center at this painting. Again, John is leaning against Christ.

Judas has his back to the viewer, and with his hand he is reaching to dip bread into the bowl. Here Judas is wearing yellow, which was the ecclesiastical color ascribed to Judas -- yellow as in urine. Don't tell me those early church fathers didn't have a mean streak.

Again, there is not much emotion in the faces portrayed in this painting.

Pietro Lorenzetti produced his Last Supper around 1320 to 1330. Again, you see more of a realistic supper setting, with people sitting on both sides of the table.

Can you find Judas? He is on the viewer's left wearing blue with a reddish cloak. He is the only one without a halo.

And again, there's John, youthful looking and leaning on Jesus.

By this time, pets and animals are appearing at the Last Supper. You see a couple of them on the floor in the kitchen area at the viewer's left.

Around 1400, Jaume Serra painted a similar version of the Supper. The apostles, void of emotion, are gathered in a circular table. John is leaning on the table, next to Jesus. What I find interesting here is Judas. Again, he has no halo, but he is reaching out for food as if this is his only interest. Others are eating, but Judas is reaching for the lamb -- which is interesting because of his betrayal of Christ, the Lamb of God.

Around 1450, Jaume Huguet, produced what looks like to me a rather standard Last Supper for that time. You see lots of similar themes here that you see in the previous paintings, but I think he takes Judas a step further here. As with Jaume Serra's work, the apostles are in a circular setting, John is at Christ's left, all are without emotion, Judas has no halo and again is reaching for food.

In this case, he is the only one eating while the rest are attentive or reacting to Jesus. It is clearly a lamb that Judas is picking at.

There is also a cat at the Last Supper. It is at the feet of Judas. What's with that? Anyone know?

John is again leaning on Jesus in Domenico Ghirlandaio's work of the late 1400s. Judas sits alone and issolated, across the table. He has also lost his halo. And as with Leonardo's work, it is daylight outside.

I wonder what that means? The Last Supper was at night. But I found that to be common as I looked at other paintings of that period depicting the Last Supper.

By the way, Domenico Ghirlandaio painted lots of birds in the sky, a peacock on the ledge on the viewer's right, and once again we see a cat on the floor near Judas. What's that about? Any ideas?

We see windows in the work of Andrea del Sarto. He painted the Last Supper in the 1520s, well after Leonardo's work.

Like Leonardo, the windows show daylight behind Christ. Showing daylight, as well as having everyone on one side of the table, may be a reflection of how this painter was influenced by Leonardo.

Here is the Last Supper by Juan de Juanes, working after Leonardo's painting, sometime in the 1560s. He is clearly influenced by Leonardo, and he shows daylight behind Christ. You can also see that Judas is on the far right, sitting across the table with his back to the viewer. He wears yellow, as in one of the earlier paintings.

Leonardo has Judas holding a bag, and we see the same here. Judas has the bag in his right hand, held low as if to hide what is probably the blood money from the rest of the group (as well he should).

There is only one chalice, but there are a couple of knives and they help point the viewer's attention to Judas.

By this time, Leonardo's influence of showing the apostles with emotion is being embraced by the artists.

Philippe de Champaigne, painted the Last Supper in the 1600s. By this time, Leonardo's influence is quite visible. Unlike Leonardo, by this time we are seeing one cup and one bread -- what Dan Brown would have expected of all the paintings.
Judas is at the viewer's left, looking defiant and confident. He holds a bag, probably the blood money, but he holds it openly and arrogantly. Again, you see he has a yellow cloak.

John is at Christ's right. He again looks rather feminine.

Daniele Crespi painted the supper in 1624-25. Again, there is daylight in the window behind Christ. John is still leaning on Jesus.
Judas is again an interesting figure. He is looking at the viewer -- you almost want to say, "Hey Judas, don't look at the camera!" You may not be able to see it here, but his left hand is at his side, and just below the level of the bench he is holding the bag, so that clearly this is the figure of Judas.

OK, change of pace. Let's leave Europe and look at some other culture's view of the Last Supper.

The Last Bar-B-Que is one of the best known lithographs of Margo Humphrey. There is watermelon and chicken, along with the traditional bread and wine. Christ and the apostles are all African-American. This is not altogether a humorous look at the event. Humphrey said, "The Last Bar-B-Que is a serious piece: a rewriting of history through the eyes of my ancestry, a portrayal of a savior who looks like my people."

Judas is on the viewer's far right. He has his halo, but he is completely yellow.

In another contemporary rendition of the Last Supper, Judith Wolfe has done a wonderful job showing the theological meaning of the Eucharist. "This cup is the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of your sins." The cup is tilted, so that the blood, or wine, is indeed poured out for our salvation. In the background, the curtain is torn, a reference to the Temple curtain that was torn at Christ's crucifixion.

Finally, I end with Salvador Dali.

I love his work.