Participation Really Matters

When I woke up on Election Day, I was undecided about what I would do for the day.  Would I go to work, or, would I do something to help with the Obama/Biden Campaign?  I’d already voted, but I had yet to volunteer my time in any organized way.

The day before I had run into a friend who was very active in the campaign; she and her 21 year-old son had been out canvassing reminding people to vote.  I thought “good for them.”  My brother had been using his status as a lawyer to get involved in overseeing fair voting in FLORIDA.  I thought “good for him.”  I learned my sister, in Nashville, was calling places like Fla. and North Carolina, to encourage people to get to the polls.  I thought “good for her.”  My mom got in the act in Western NC which was good.  It was all good enough to make me think I should do something…maybe.

I was still undecided as I got into my car, when an errand–paying the cell phone bill–took me to the same plaza where the local Democratic headquarters was stationed.  That did it.  So, I stopped in and found out where I could be of help.  One staging area happened to be in my neighborhood.

When I arrived, I was given a stack of door hangers with voting information on them, and a list of supposed (I’ll get back to that in a moment) Obama-supporters who hadn’t yet voted.  With a map in hand, off I went.  The first four stops turned out to be a good representation of what I would face throughout the day:

  1. The person answered the door and told me she had just returned from voting;
  2. The person answered the door and told me that they had already voted…and were McCain supporters…oops.  Unfortunately I had a fair share of these encounters–all congenial, but I wish the data had been a bit tighter.
  3. The person who answered the door was the father of the 18 year-old on my list, and he assured me that she was very excited about voting, once she got home from classes.
  4. No one answered, and so I left an information placard on the door.
  5. Throughout the course of the day, I had a handful of encounters with folks who hadn’t yet voted, who said they were planning to, and maybe to whom I gave a boost of encouragement.

After two rounds of lists, my day was done, and it was time to wait out the day to hear the results.  The good news was, that all the canvassers from this staging location were able to complete our lists.

When it was first reported that Obama had captured Ohio, it was hard to truly believe; way too many shenanigans in past elections.  But as it settled into reality, and John McCain conceded, and Barack Obama gave his incredibly poignant–and truly presidential–victory speech, I stood back in amazement.  I also took a look at the numbers from our local county’s board of elections.  Here was the margin in our county:

 President and Vice-President
          Vote For One (1)  1
              (WITH 215 OF 215 PRECINCTS COUNTED)
           Chuck Baldwin/Darrell L. Castle (CON) .       250     .22
           Bob Barr/Wayne Allyn Root (LIB) .  .  .       365     .33
           Richard Duncan/Ricky Johnson .  .  .  .        83     .07
           John McCain/Sarah Palin (REP).  .  .  .    54,441   48.87
           Cynthia McKinney/Rosa A. Clemente (GRE)       145     .13
           Brian Moore/Stewart Alexander (SOC).  .        27     .02
           Ralph Nader/Matt Gonzalez .  .  .  .  .       999     .90
           Barack Obama/Joe Biden (DEM) .  .  .  .    54,786   49.18
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .       313     .28

Do the math: 54786 – 54441 = 345 voters, and .9% of the vote.

I have no idea if I influenced anyone to vote who for one reason or another had decided not to on that day.  But my imagination allows me to think that maybe, my time was worth it.  AND, whether or not I had any impact, I know for sure that all those canvassers who went before me in the days, weeks, and months leading up to this historic day in our nation, really did make this happen.

Kudos to President-elect Community Organizer, because it worked, and I truly came to understand just how much even a little bit of participation in the process really does matter.

May joy fill your day today, and may our Union be much more perfected in the four (if not eight) years to come!  Peace.


Lost Generation

A friend told me about the following vid on YouTube. It was part of a contest that AARP put on. I guess it’s been around for a while, but just in case you haven’t seen it….it’s pretty cool.

And then there was one…

This is Ebenezer.  He is a basset hound.  A 13 year-old basset hound.  He is a quirky dog.  As I write this he is currently moaning as he gets a toenail at just the right spot on his ear.  I guess it feels pretty good….    Up until two Fridays ago Ebenezer shared our house with Sage.  Sage was almost 14; apparently it was tumors in her lung that led to her death.

This is Sage.  She was a golden retriever.  She came to us the same time as our daughter was born, almost 9 years ago.  We became her surrogates as my parents were discovering the joys of retirement…traveling wherever the winds blew them (sometimes literally when they would go sailing).

Sage was a beautiful dog–probably as most retriever parents can attest.  It took her a little time to adjust to the rambunctious three year-old boy who invaded her space with suddenness and noise.  But she did.  In fact, as we grew from one to two to three, she barely blinked an eye when her tail was accidentally stepped on, or when she was quite intentionally tackled.  The only time she showed her displeasure was when she wasn’t free to be near us.  If she was in the backyard and we were in the driveway, she’d let us know.  And while her companion Ebenezer would gladly saunter away given such freedom, Sage would lie down with a ‘humph,” happy as a…well, happy as a dog near its loved ones.

Sage’s body was laid to rest in our backyard, along with some of her favorite things: a tennis ball, a dog bone, and a little stuffed Big Bird that she carried around from time to time.  Our children wrote her notes and they’re in there too; tokens of love and articles of thanksgiving for a beautiful life lived in faithfulness.

When we moved into our house there were our two cats, Kitty and Anni.  Then came Eb.  Then son #1.  Then Sage and daughter.  And for a while we were the “two family”: two partners, two children, two cats, and two dogs.  But as with all things in life, changes occur, and we were so happy with the arrival of son #2.

Not long after his arrival we lost Kitty.  Then Anni.  Now Sage.  Ebbie remains, and in the not-so-distant future we will be saying goodbye to him as well.  But in the meantime we’ll hug him, and cherish him, we’ll laugh at his antics, and we’ll take him for … oooo, I’d better not say the word, otherwise he’ll get all excited! … you know, a synonym for “strolls.”

And we’ll prepare for the day when the nest will empty of our chicks.  But that too is far enough off; and who knows, maybe the animal menagerie will see a new day???

A Tutu Fist-bump

One college student from the congregation I serve, attended a conference with PeaceJam.  Of course, one of the perks of attending these events is being able to meet and greet Nobel Laureates.  Bishop Desmond Tutu was one of the laureates attending this event.  As the father of this young man recalls the story:

at the Peace Jam hotel last Saturday night, Tim saw Bishop Tutu across the lobby and walked over to shake his hand.  But Tutu gave him a fist-bump instead.

How awesome is that!!  How many of us can claim to have high-fived a nobel laureate???

A Pastor Looks at 40

I don’t know how many of you have listened to Jimmy Buffett either now or at another point in your life.  I went through a Buffett phase: Margaritaville, Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Come Monday, etc….  One of his songs is called A Pirate Looks at Forty.  While it’s not the most uplifting song, I’m going to use its title as a muse as I reach that milestone age later this month.  What’s it like for a pastor, dad, son, husband, friend, self to reach this milestone?

Self: I guess 40 seems about right.  I still feel young at heart, but I’m certainly finding it harder to keep my body in shape.  The metabolism is not what it once was!  I remember playing tennis with Eric Koenig a year ago, and relaizing I’d lost a step or three.  It’s also certain to say that I’ve had enough experiences in this life to learn a thing or two.  Hopefully, as each year passes, I’m gaining in wisdom, learning from those experiences and maintaining that which adds to the well-being of the world, and shedding that which the world doesn’t need.

Son/brother: Being child 4 out of 4, I am so thankful that my parents are still alive and doing well.  I think I’ve always had the good sense to appreciate them for who they are and for the way they shaped me to be.  I look around and see that this isn’t necessarily the norm, and so I am simply appreciative and try to let them know how much I love them.  Likewise, as I approach 40, I have enjoyed getting to know my brother and sisters as adults.  It’s one thing to be kids growing up with one another (in all of the turbulence that makes up childhood shared in the same house), but it is another thing to get to kow them as spouses and parents, and deep-thinking, mature people of the earth.  Again, I am thankful for my sibs and the kin they’ve added.

Husband: I don’t know which is the wilder number to comprehend–40 years of life or 17 years of marriage?  I certainly remember life before Celinda came along, but it is hard to reach back into those years, and I’m pretty sure that at this point I don’t want to!  Sometimes we talk about how random it can be to discover a mate-for-life.  In some sense, it is remarkable that we remain married, for as little as we knew one another going into it, and with as much life maturing we (I!!) still had to undergo.  And yet here we are, living into our joyfully ever after.  (Come on now, we all know that partnership isn’t always “happy.”  But the joy in this companionship certainly lives!)

Dad:  Anytime someone comes up to me and tells me what nice children I have, I have to say I’m a bit embarrassed.  I happen to agree with them, but even still…..  When I said above that I feel young at heart, I certainly owe a lot to Adrian, Lillian, and Elliot.  They have a knack for drawing it out of me.  And even when my body doesn’t feel like trying to keep up with them, they’ve done a good job and telling me to ignore it and just play.  Again being the broken record (for those of you old enough to get that analogy), I am ever so thankful to be in the posisition to be a father; even as the hair grows white.

Friend:  I’ve found friendship to be an elusive thing.  I mean deep-down-to-the-soul friendship.  There are many people to whom I would give the title as my friend, but only a few with whom I can be fully me…without having to think about it.  Since I’m an Ohio transplant, I only maintain a couple of friends from growing up in Atlanta.  Four years of college, four years of seminary, into life as a “grown-up” haven’t afforded the time it takes to dig in with people and form those abiding ties.  I don’t know if others share this same experience?  And yet, there have been so many blessed short-stinited acquaintences that have made my life so abundant I can’t even begin to number–or (unfortunately) remember–them all.

Pastor:  Talk about elusive.  How does one know they are being an effective pastor?  So many measuring sticks: preaching and liturgy that reaches hearts, teaching that fosters spiritual formation, human rights advocacy that makes a difference, pastoral care that meets people’s needs, intellectual acumen, presence at important church and civil meetings, an active member in the presbytery, shepherding the church into a reshaping culture, introducing the gospel in relevant ways to folks longing to hear it, profound writings in newsletters 🙂 .   As I reach year 40, and year 12 of my ordination, these questions run through my head.  I’m not sure that there will ever be a point at which I’ll discern definitive answers.  I trust that as my own spiritual formation matures, and as my vocational calling evolves,  I will grow in greater wisdom regarding how to serve with you in our common calling.

What ties all of these things together?  God has made me as God has made me–gifts and gaffes, all.  And yet, God did not make me to go throguh this life alone.  In this reflection, I’ve born witness to the importance of my community of support.  It has been the sum of people (and a dog or cat along the way) being there to urge, comfort, challenge, accompany, lead, follow, forgive, and share the way with me.  If there is to be wisdom to be found in this writing may it be the wisdom that each of us needs the other; whether friend or stranger, Christian or agnostic, American or Iraqi, body-enabled or body-challenged, and everywhere around and in-between these places.

My prayer, my birthday wish, is that I will live into this wisdom; even in the midst of the cultural biases and privileges that also make me who I am.   And I pray that I will show you and those who will never read these words that I am thankful for the opportunity to live this life right here, right now, and that I will do so, in the promising words of Jesus Christ, abundantly.  I’ll close this missive with the words of the U2 song, appropriately named “40” (as in, Psalm 40):

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing a new song,
How long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Birthday blessings with you.  Francis

A Day in the Life: Really a Microcosm

Alarm and two snoozes:

Got the paper, visited the bathroom

Started making school lunches–interrupted so I could make breakfasts

{NobleWife gets the kids up and dressed}

Continue making lunches.

Child #1 out the door to the bus.

Make my own breakfast and lunch.

Eat breakfast, get child #2 out the door.  Wait for bus.  … Wave goodbye

Take a shower…get dressed

Say goodbye as #3 gets driven to preschool by NobleWife

Head out the door preparing to meet a contractor to look at changes in church.

Get to church, to find out plans have been changed.

Walk to visitation at someone’s house.

Visit with the person for an hour.

Walk back to church.  (on the way back, I saw a beautiful sight: a tree root, which formed a small pool, in which there lay a little yellow maple leaf.  🙂   )

Back to church in time to prepare for a lunch meeting. Except return a call to General Presbyter (GP) asking me to take on a fairly large responsibility with the Presbytery {“NP,” says she by way of introduction, “the presbytery needs you to step up your service.”…..}

Attend meeting to disucss possible strategys for presbytery regarding its urban churches…

Afterward, discuss said opportunity from GP with the person who just retired from said position.  Hmmmm…sounds like an even bigger responsibility than I first thought…..

Meet up with a newly arrived colleague and go out for tea and a catch up about our life and work…

Depart for church to attend weekly Bible Study with folks…

Arrive at the same moment as one of the BibStud participants…which is fine, but little time for transition….

Check email (first time that day, and it’s 3:50) fortunately not a lot needed in response, but at least one bit of correspondence about an upcoming trip that will have to wait.

Bible Study

Direct transition into Preschool Support Team mtg



…kids rushing around…another having to go to soccer practice…

dog who has entered her last phase of life who isn’t sounding very good and needs some love and attention….

this journal entry….

…a quick computer game….

….bed time for kiddos (maybe pickup soccer kid first?)

maybe a conversation with NobleWife?

maybe 15 minutes of junk tv (if I’m lucky, sports)

crash and prepare for another day, not quite so hectic (maybe)……

Barack the Vote!

Check out this video performed by my brother, John.  If you like it, please share it!

Thursdays – kindom days

As I’ve sat at my desk for the past two hours this morning these are the people I have seen and heard:

  • A variety of folks from around the world who are in the process of learning how to speak English;
  • Preschoolers, the parents who drop them off, and the women who teach them;
  • People attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting;
  • A woman who chronically comes to the office administrator for assistance (faxing, computer work, etc);
  • Church staff and random drop-ins.

All of these folks using the same door, sharing the same air, engaging in the dance of life…harmoniously. I guess of I were sitting in a coffeeshop, or a McDonalds, or at the grocery store, the scene would be similar, but with more anonymous classifications. Still, it’s nice to see in a church.


Sunrise, Sunset

Friday, 28 March, started out like this:

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An absolutely beautiful morning on the Atlantic.

We knew it would be a special day when we got the call from my brother to run—not walk—upstairs to their balcony that overlooked the ocean. Why the urgency? We asked. Usually when you’re hanging out on the beach, things tend to be taken a little easier. It’s this kind of pace we were appreciating in on this post-Easter vacation.

The ocean was fairly smooth, and when it’s like that, my brother likes to look for dolphins smoothly making their way north or south paralleling the shore. And indeed he pointed out the spray from a blowhole you might expect to see from dolphins; except this time the spray was a bit bigger. Instead of the dorsal fins you are used to seeing roll out of the water, their was a large back—sans fin.
Right Whale
That’s a Right Whale, my sister-in-law explained. You can tell by the fact that it doesn’t have a dorsal fin. They’ve been hunted into endangerment; there are only a few hundred of them left. We watched it move it’s way south—spray, backbone, and one showing of its fluke. I guess seeing a whale that s on the edge of extinction should be enough to let one know that it was going to be an extra-ordinary day.

It was our last day on Jacksonville Beach, before we were to head north to Atlanta to visit with two of my closest friends; one with whom I was looking forward to spending some quality time as he had just gone through a surprising and painful divorce. When we left Cleveland on Easter Sunday, we had just received word from one of the folks in the church I serve—hereafter referred to as, M—that some scans observing his progression through cancer treatments had come back showing the cancer was present and, in his words, “raging” throughout him.

A group gathered after church to set up pastoral care, my family piled into the van, and we headed south. Wednesday I learned that M had checked into the hospital to undergo a blood transfusion. Thursday I was told he had been moved to the palliative care unit. On Friday morning (the same day as the sunrise and whale sighting), I spoke with M’s partner–R–who told me that he didn’t believe M would make it through the weekend. Around 5:30 that afternoon, M drew his last breath.

I am told that he was surrounded by—in the language of the church—a great cloud of witnesses; a few loving people who represent several aspects of M’s life. It’s hard to know what to do when you have a particular role in someone’s life (like, pastor) and you are unable to be there at such a moment of transition. M’s death was something for which many folks have been gearing for a while, as he had experienced peaks and valleys with his health for several years. But this happened so quickly.

As I concluded the conversation with R, he offered me one thing I could do from where I was: “Enjoy the sunset.” As I stood on the beach with my family, at dusk, I looked west and drew in the various shades of blues, oranges, yellows, and whites, and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a life that will sorely be missed. In my sadness, I prayed over the sunset of this life, but I had a faint smile somewhere within me over the sunrise that he must be seeing in the next one…….

Riding the Wave of “Yes We Can”

I hadn’t yet decided where I was going to throw my hat in this presidential year. I’ve had a hunch that it was Obama for a while. I was sent this video today. And it’s pretty nice. I’ve embedded it from YouTube. But to get the credits and all go to:

Here’s a nod towards all those who have the Audacity to Hope. Peace

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