"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, March 31, 2004 The Ubiquitous Karen Hughes
So Robin and I are watching 20/20 on Monday night and see this non-story about Karen Hughes, the "former" Bush adviser who quit her job after 18 months so she could move back to Texas and spend more time with her husband and teenage son. Mostly a puff piece, but full of feel-good stuff about how she had chosen family over career (film of her at her son's baseball games, etc.).
And since then ... she's everywhere!!!
She's on the Daily Show tonight, Charlie Rose last night, Fresh Air on NPR this afternoon, at least 3 news channels and who knows where else! Pres. Bush has turned her into the anti-Richard Clarke. Everywhere Clarke goes, Bush sends Hughes. Guess she's not spending too much time at high school baseball games!
But as a result ... everywhere I turn ... there's Karen Hughes. I expect her to be frothing my latte at Kayak's next!
Do YOU have a Karen Hughes sighting? We should start a tote board!
(OK, you stay home all day with a one-year old and see what weird crap you start noticing!) :^)
| Mike at 3/31/2004 10:47:00 AM
Tuesday, March 30, 2004 So today I spent $5500 of Eli Lilly's money and Robin and I now have round trip tickets to Ghana ... NONREFUNDABLE and very cool.
Less cool is sitting in a center seat from Chicago to London ... but someone's got to, I guess.
Last week we all took a trip down to Natchez, MS for three days with Tom and Leine McNeely. It was a wonderful time. Schroedter and Robin LOVED Shadyside (Hayden loves everywhere!). We rode Ebony (Leine took Schroedter and I on a trail ride), went on some antebellum mansion house tours, spent a lot of time just hanging out and ate some fantastic seafood. One of the highlights was attending the Spring Pilgrimage Confederate Pageant (those of you who took the Natchez trip two years ago saw the video of Julia in this). I feel fully indoctrinated into Southern culture now -- a fine counterbalance to my three years in Connecticut. You would not believe the costumes and the huge production that went into this. Tom thinks the whole thing is embarrasingly bad ... and I see his point, but it was still fun. Somewhere in the cosmos, Julia is laughing so hard that I ended up with her mom at the Confederate Pageant. I can almost hear her.
The trip was bittersweet but far more sweet than bitter. It was all about life. It was difficult in some ways to be living in the house where she grew up, surrounded by pictures of her, but more than anything it was healing ... being able to be truly grateful for her life and reminding me how grateful I am for so many, many people's lives. As Leine was saying, "I always knew Julia was amazing ... and then I met (all the ECM students) ... and they're ALL so amazing!"
Robin and the boys gave me some time alone at the cemetery, and that was good. And then it was the sweetest thing because Schroedter started gathering flowers (weeds, mostly, but to the wonderful eye of a 5-year old they were beautiful flowers) and came up to me and said "Daddy, do you want to help me pick flowers for Julia." So Schroedter and I picked flowers and put them on Julia's grave while Hayden played with this little ceramic teddy bear that someone had left at the grave for Christmas.
I still have a hole in my heart ... always will. But now more than ever, I know it's a hole of distance not of separation. Somewhere, in God, Julia and all of us are still together. I'm sure of that now, as sure as I am of just about anything. I can just feel it.
And wherever she is ... whether she can see us or not ... even in whatever state or plane of existence or whatever she is in ... I think she can feel it, too.
| Mike at 3/30/2004 07:58:00 PM
Friday, March 19, 2004 The best we can hope for is to be instruments of God. That sounds really cool, doesn't it? It sounds like something happening that involves you being surrounded by this brilliant light and stuff like that. And sometimes it is that way. Sometimes when I feel that God is using me, it feels like everything is just clicking the right way and it's almost like I'm floating on air. But sometimes, it feels a lot different.
Jalaluddin Rumi was an amazing poet who understood this. Rumi's poetry was God's voice speaking into and through human form. And yet it wasn't always sweetness and light. Rumi himself wrote:
Do you think I know what I'm doing,
That for a moment, or even half a moment,
I know what verses will come from my mouth?
I am no more than a pen in a writer's hand,
No more than a ball smacked around by a polo stick.
I think that describes it pretty well. Sometimes being God's instrument is like being a flute in God's mouth or a pen in God's hand and sometimes it's a lot like being the ball smacked around by God's polo stick! One feels better than the other, but neither one is more honorable than the other ... it's just how God decides to use you. The truth is, I think if we're open to it, we'll get quite a bit of both.
Throughout time, people have tended to see misfortune as the result of sin and of God's disfavor. But sometimes it's not. Sometimes misfortune just is about shit happening, but sometimes it's about being that polo ball. And we don't know why God is smacking us around but perhaps if our faith and the faith of each other can carry us, we can believe that we aren't be smacked indisriminately, but toward a greater goal.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004 Ryan has dubbed my blog "lovely, serious and verbose" -- the last of which should be no surprise to anyone who knows me.
Ryan's blog, on the other hand, must settle for just being wildly entertaining (see links)
So, in her honor, this entry might be lovely (eye of the beholder), somewhat serious, but not at all verbose.
| Mike at 3/16/2004 10:57:00 PM
Sunday, March 14, 2004 My first-glance Final Four is
Keep in mind that I have never won an NCAA pool ... however, I will be playing in the ECM March Gladness pool for the Julia V. McNeely Fund for Student Mission Work.
Took the boys to the science center today, about an hour of which we spent in the planetarium. I love the planetarium because even if the stars aren't real, it's the only place you can really go to see that many of them (thank you, light pollution!). It reminds me to be in awe of creation. That's a big difference for me between living here in Missouri and growing up in Arizona. In Arizona, there was something every day that reminded you that God's creation is something to be completely blown away by ... a mountain, an incredibly blue sky, an amazing sunset, lots and lots of stars. Here in Missouri ... well ... don't get me wrong, I love it here in Missouri, but as far as nature goes, it really isn't awe-inspiring.
Anyway, even though all the stars were just fake and projected on the inside of a dome, it reminded me how small we are and how big everything else is. Awe of God is the beginning of wisdom. Maybe I'm a little wiser, then.
So maybe when I say "UConn over Kentucky in the final" ... you should take it seriously!
Thursday, March 11, 2004 God works in weird and wonderful ways.
I often keep my cell phone in my front pocket -- the backlash of which is the times when I forget to put the keylock on and end up accidentally dialing someone stored in the phone without knowing it.
Last night was one of those times. I was blogging (believe it or not!) around 9:15 and I heard the sound of a phone ringing on the other end of the line, quickly got my phone out and hung it up, hoping I hadn't disturbed the person on the other end of the line (and hoping they didn't have caller ID!).
Well, early this morning I got a call from a good friend and fellow priest out East whose number I had unwittingly called. I hadn't talked with her in 7 months and she had left her phone in her car last night and when she got in this morning, she saw that I had called, so she called me back. Embarrassed, I confessed what had happened and she got a good laugh out of it ... and then I asked her how she was doing.
It turns out she was having a really rough time. The parish where she is rector had been hammered by finances so she was losing funding for her assistant. Much worse than that, she was having major problems in her marriage. Everything was raining down at once and it really, really sucked.
I didn't have any great words of wisdom. THere really aren't any. Sometimes life just craps on you, and when it does you have to pray a lot and lean on those whom God has given you. So her life is still really, really hard, but I think it was good for her just to be able to talk to someone who is enough removed from it to tell her that she is as wonderful as she really is, that she's not crazy and that she's going to get through this and that people love here. And I was blessed enough to be able to be that person when she needed it.
My own tendencies toward arrogance and believing I'm in control over my own life make me uncomfortable believing in a God who intervenes in our lives in ways like making a phone dial. I've got all the really good logical arguments against it ... like "If God can intervene to make a phone dial, why can't God just intervene and make a loyal tither in my friend's parish win the lottery ... or help her husband to see the merits of getting into counseling?"
But that's a stupid mental game to play, because it's even more arrogant still ... me presuming I can know the ways of God. The truth is, I haven't a clue why my phone dialed her number of all numbers last night and why she chose to call me back this morning. I could view it as a happy coincidence, but I've just got a sense I can't shake that it's something more.
And in a world where we are told what truth is in ways that are so often cold and bleak, the recognition that there is a deeper truth, a foundational force and person of love who continues to guide us and break through into our lives and, yes, even connect us to each other is a glorious and joyful truth indeed.
So I'm joyful today. I'm joyful because whether by coincidence or divine intervention, God enabled and allowed me to be there for a friend.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 I haven't seen the Passion of the Christ ... I don't really want to ... and I can't make up my mind whether I'm going to.
I can't make up my mind because the movie -- which I gather is pretty much 2-3 hours of Jesus' excruciating torture and death -- sounds both theologically offensive and yet very important.
What is offensive to me is what appears to be the subtext to the movie that we need to immerse ourselves in the horrific pain of Jesus' passion because it is the "price he paid for our sins." That's offensive because it turns God into a sadist ... and even worse, into the worst kind of abusive parent. The emphasis on the cross to the near-elimination of everything else -- Jesus' life ... even his resurrection -- has always seemed a deep perversion of the Gospel. And though I can't say beause I haven't seen the movie ... from all reports it sure smells like this is the same sort of thing.
And yet ... and yet, I think there is a way that it is important -- IF (and this is a big IF) we take it as an intense look at something that is only PART of the story.
Jesus' story has probably gotten too familiar and co-opted by Western suburban Christianity. We treat the image of Jesus on the cross as if he was lounging in an easy chair up there -- very casually. There's so much in our culture that says that our faith, like everything else, shouldn't be so important that it radically changes us or takes away our own sense of our own importance or self-definition. But the horrible reality of the crucifixion is a deep and powerful statement of how much who Christ is and what he lived really, really matters. It matters enough for him to endure this kind of pain.
I think it's important for the same reason I think every Christian should, on Good Friday, take the day off work if they possibly can, fast, pray, go to the three hours service and then do a stations of the cross -- completely immerse themselves in the events of that day. For one day, it is critical that we remember that our faith IS about life and death.
And that's what I see as good about The Passion of Christ. But of course if all you ever did was go to the Good Friday liturgy, your view of Christianity would be severely warped. And I guess that's what I fear about those who are flocking to this movie. It's an important image --- but as PART of the story, not as the whole story.
So maybe we all should see it. Maybe I'll wait until Good Friday and see it then. Yeah ... actually, that sounds pretty good. Because I know after I see it I'll need to sit with it for awhile, let it seep through me. But then I'll also need to sing along with the first fire of Easter, and shout Alleluia at the empty tomb, and rejoice that the cross wasn't the end ... that the end hasn't come yet. That we're still living the story.
| Mike at 3/10/2004 09:30:00 PM
Thursday, March 04, 2004 Just came back last night from a week of traveling, first to Boston and then to Tampa, FL. Two different meetings -- both about the church and global peace and justice. Both amazing.
No one should ever watch TV news ever again. Because if you watch TV, you can't help but just feel like the world is going to hell. You see all the death and destruction and you don't see what I've seen the last week -- so MANY amazing people who are giving their lives to help others ... to help people they have never met and could very easily, if they wanted to, ignore.
John Lipscomb is the bishop of Southwest Florida. James Jelinek is the bishop of Minnesota. John voted against Gene Robinson's consecration at General Convention and stood up with the dissenting bishops after the House of Bishops consented and called for the Anglican primates to intervene. Jim voted for Gene's consecration and was the celebrant at the Integrity celebration Eucharist after convention.
These are two men who are deeply entrenched on opposite sides of the current church war. And yet for two days this week, they sat side by side at our meeting in Tampa and worked together, laughed together, shared together, lived together. Both are going to Africa in the next several months to help with works reconciliation of tribal warfare and HIV/AIDS. Both know an important truth -- that what we are doing together reaching out to help those in need ... and to receive the Christ that those in need bear to us that WE desperately need ... is so much more important than our quarrels about sexuality as to render them meaningless.
In June, I'll be headed to Ghana. Now, in addition to the work I'll be doing with James Sarpei there, I'll be visiting a refugee camp outside of Accra where 3000 Liberian refugees are being detained, hoping to be resettled in America or another receiving country. I'll be visiting as an official representative of the Episcopal Church, and making policy recommendations when I return as to how our office of government relations should lobby the U.S. government on their behalf.
And I think about doing things like this and on one hand, I think it's absolutely ridiculous. Who the hell am I? I'm just some guy from Tucson, Arizona. Some nutty campus minister from Missouri. And I'm trying to help halt the spread of AIDS in Africa and help 3000 Liberian refugees get their lives back.
All of which just goes to show all of us that changing the world is not about elections or grand movements ... it's about each one of us letting God move through us to do things that we never imagined we would be doing when we were sitting in our 3rd grade classroom ... and can scarcely imagine we are doing now. It's about using our power to prove the talking heads on the TV wrong. It's about being one of the many, many, too many to mention people who are working for good in this world.
I have spent the last week surrounded by statistics and stories about how bad it is all over the world. And I've never been more hopeful. Because I've also been surrounded by ordinary people who care enough to try to make a difference. And as deep as the darkness is, that's a light that will never go out.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."