Thursday, May 17, 2018

B147. Special to the Salisbury Post on City Council and Racism

Click here for Salisbury Post article 

or read manuscript below:

I watched the entire three-hour video of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, as I often do, and I listened carefully to the discussion around the mayor’s travel to Salisbury, England, both from the council and during the public comments. I am concerned about where the council can go from here. I see an almost forced division, which is likely to work counter to what any councilperson or citizen wants for our local government, but it’s not inevitable.

I see two separate issues at work in the discussion. First, that of systemic racism. Racism is very real and arguably the base of, not only our national, state, and local political division, but most of the divisiveness of our culture, intricately and indistinguishably interwoven with our economic and criminal justice systems.  We desperately need open and civil discourse on these issues, because, while most of us do not self-identify as racist, it’s the nature of systemic bias that we will always see the world through the lens of our own backgrounds, and this feeds oppression. While we might never know from experience what it’s like to wake up  black, or female, or gay, or Jewish, or Hispanic, or poor . . ., we can choose to listen with open hearts and minds to the diverse voices crying out around us to be heard. Did some of the public commentary push the education forward in a positive way? Did some of it slam doors, adding more divisive tension to our council and city?

The secondary issue, framed as the primary one, is that of our mayor’s requested reimbursement for travel to Salisbury, England.  While I’m not sure there can be any possible interaction between black and white human beings without race playing some kind of underlying part, negative or positive, race is not the primary divider I saw at work here, but rather the also very common that’s-not-how-we’ve-always-done-it  phenomenon, coupled with some gaps in communication.

Despite passionate and emotional public reaction, including some personal name-calling and shaming of individual council members, I saw respectful disagreement from every council member. Diversity of opinion is good in a governing body, and how fortunate we are that our council is also diverse in race, religion, and orientation. This assures us that we are well represented and that decisions will be made, not perfectly, but fairly and reasonably.

The council has been injured in this debacle.  Future communication will be stifled and difficult for each one of the councilpersons and for the mayor. Does disagreeing with the mayor on any given issue mean a councilperson is not sensitive to the black community? Must a councilperson agree with another on every issue to avoid being called an antisemite, or with another to prove they are not anti-LGBT?  Is it OK, on the other hand, to disdainfully call a councilperson an Alabama redneck or a country clubber?

My intent here is not to answer the reimbursement question, but to ask the rest of us to allow our mayor the grace to work this out. To juggle the demands of any political position is difficult, and many at national, state, and local levels fail, selling themselves out to their supporters. Mayor Heggins is finding her own way, taking pride in her vision of the council as the People’s House, hearing and caring for all people. With all the public and media attention, if she makes this trip, will her travel story be received only with negative politics? If she does not take the reimbursement, will she be accused by some of selling out?  Has the public outcry trapped her? As citizens, can we give our mayor and every member of our council the respect and support they need to work together for our diverse city? And can you, can I, make a real effort to hear the cries of all our neighbors with compassion and grace?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

B146. Fake News: The Smeller's the Feller

My daddy tells a story of his second grade class, in which there were apparently some little gas passing jokesters. When one of them would announce what someone had done, the teacher would say “The smeller’s the feller.*"

I make no general judgment on the reliability of that statement, but I do see that exact reality at work in our current national government, and we all need to be aware of what’s happening, because we are being used as fools in a drama that stinks of evil.

First, we’ve been brainwashed into distrusting, even hating, each other because of our political affiliations. This makes an evil ploy easy. For example, some readers have not made it this far in this blog, and some of you who are still here are thinking of leaving because this is just another enemy post. Please wait. We are not enemies. We are on the same team, both, all, caring deeply about our nation, our futures, our families. As long as we believe the lie that we are enemies and have nothing in common, our nation remains in darker trouble than it has ever seen or imagined.

Imagine a horror movie or a scary novel in which the government accuses the opposing party of whatever sin the government itself is committing, as a way to cover it up so no one will suspect it’s really them. If I say you passed gas, surely no one will think I’m the one who did it; and if the opposition says “no, you did,” then it becomes “my word against yours,” and while several classmates might join in on one side or the other, most lose interest. Both seem equally guilty of distrust, so we just ignore them and move on.

Well, at a government level, when this is a tactic, a strategy, to keep us all both fighting and ignoring what’s really happening, there is serious danger. You know all the talk in the past year about “fake news”?  Did you ever even hear that term before this administration? “Fake news” has become the cry of this administration to confuse us about what we can and cannot trust. The hope being that eventually there will be no media in existence except what is controlled by the government. Conspiracy theory? No, it’s happening. Every legitimate media source is being called “fake news” by the president of our country.

What is happening in our country is not new to history. It bears frightening similarity to Hitler’s Germany, but that comparison has also been diluted for us in the same way. If the Nazis call the opposition “Nazis,” it becomes two little schoolboys calling each other the same name, with neither having any meaning. Can you see the manipulation? 

Some call the mastermind a stupid idiot, but he is not. He is a calculating, manipulating despot, playing all of us as fools in his grab of greed and power, and in an attempt to cover up some horrible realities that are starting to come to light.

Remember when you heard about the cult in Waco, TX and asked how anyone could fall for such ridiculous brainwashing? Or how the Nazis could’ve gone along with the killing of millions of Jews? Some were simply afraid not to obey. Others were brainwashed into believing that what they were being told was right. And, in our government, many are quietly being paid literally millions of dollars to play along. It is happening now to us. We are the they.

Are you old enough to remember when we could watch the 6:00 and 11:00 news and trust what we were hearing? Do you remember Dan Rather? He’s still out there, seeing our danger and doing all he can to warn us. In the following new release, he is warning us about news stations across the nation being mandated to read word for word, repeatedly, a statement accusing media sources that report what's really happening as “fake news” during their newscast, as if the mandated statement were real news. Please watch, even if you don’t fully understand what you are witnessing. It's 7 minutes long.

What can we do? First, acknowledge to ourselves that this is not about political parties and that our nation is in terrible danger. Second, be wary of everything we hear. Question everything. (Yes, including this blog post. Don't believe anything just because I or anyone else says so.) Measure everything by our own God-given sense of morality. And consciously listen to news sources that have not yet become controlled by the government. Third, stop treating each other as enemies, and work together as brothers and sisters with a common love for our country. And fourth, vote in May and in November to fix this frightening mess we have been tricked into making.

Read about Hitler and the Nazis. Read about the Dominican Republic’s General Trujillo. Read Orwell’s 1984. If you smell something, pay attention to the one who blames the smell on someone else. Sometimes the smeller’s the feller. Loyalty to party will not stop this, but we are the ones, together, you and I, who will allow our total destruction, or not.

*"Feller" is Southern colloquial for "fellow."

Friday, February 23, 2018

B145. Living Water

That spring of living water
Clean and clear
Deep and eternal

The soul cries for respite
But covered by weeds
The water is as a dried up memory
Or a once imagined mirage

That spring of living water
Clean and clear
Deep and eternal

For we have forgotten
Where it was
How to find it
Forgotten the feel
Refreshing and pure

Then in a blind darkness
In a still silence
We feel a trickle
a slow babbling brook
A rushing stream
A bubbling overflow
A joyously laughing fountain

It was always there
Just beyond the weeds
Freely flowing
Fresh and refreshing
The soul rejoices
The spirit soars

We will remember now
The eyes see only weeds
But the searching soul
Finds the spring

The living water
That never runs dry
Deep and eternal
Clean and clear

kvestal  436  2/22/2018

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

B144. Remembering Billy Graham

Legendary Evangelist Billy Graham has been talking for years about moving to heaven, and this morning, at the age of 99, he made that move.  We North Carolinians proudly claim him as our own, and this blog is a memoir of how and where his legacy and my own North Carolina life have intersected.

My Childhood and Youth

I grew up Southern Baptist, and if Baptists ever had a pope, at least in my house, he was Billy Graham. The ultimate spiritual icon, the most honored of all heroes, followed at some distance by Lottie Moon, Corrie ten Boom, and all Southern Baptist missionaries. Well, OK, my daddy did have another set of heroes during those days: Dean Smith, Bob McAdoo, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Ford, and other young men who wore light blue basketball uniforms.

Televised Billy Graham crusades were events in my house. I don’t remember sitting down and watching more than one, but his distinct preaching voice, George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art,” and the extended “Just As I Am” closing invitation were heard throughout the house whatever I was doing.

In 1973, when I was 11 or 12 years old, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association put out maybe their first ever full-length movie, Time To Run (you can watch it free here),  and I remember that being especially meaningful to me. Growing up, Billy Graham was just part of the air I breathed.

The BGEA published hundreds of books too, many credited to Billy Graham, although I learned later what made sense, that, like most other celebrities, he was much too busy to write books, and used “ghost writers.” (Read Mel White’s Stranger at the Gate.) Well, I remember when I was in high school, My charismatic friend Janet introduced me to contemporary Christian music and took me to her tongue-speaking church a couple of times. My Baptist parents were deeply concerned, and they bought me Billy Graham’s The Holy Spirit to explain to me (straight from the “pope”) what the Holy Spirit was and was not supposed to do, at least for Baptists. My first of several BGEA books.

1996 Crusade in Charlotte

In 1996 Billy Graham held a crusade in Charlotte, and my church volunteered to be a part. I learned a little about what goes into such an event. Several months of work, prayer, and preparation!  With other members of my church (and hundreds of other churches) I trained to be a counselor at the event, and I led what was called “Operation Andrew” at my church, which was about inviting friends to the crusade. Billy Graham did not attend the training sessions, but if I remember correctly, we did meet Beverly Shea (or maybe it was Cliff Barrows).

I learned that the masses of people moving from their seats during the “Just As I Am” time are not all responding to the call, but many are the trained counselors like me. I don’t remember how many evenings I attended, or how many evenings the crusade lasted, but I remember sitting in the pouring rain with Pam, completely soaked, despite the plastic rain covers we purchased there. And I remember the counseling room.

The Billy Graham Library

During Christmas of 2009, two years after its opening, Darlene and I visited the Billy Graham Library. Again I specifically remember the weather. It was so cold and windy! We explored the exhibits, drank hot cocoa, rode the carriage, visited Ruth’s grave site, and shopped in the gift shop. The library has become quite the tourist attraction.

His politics

In more recent years, as politics and evangelical Christianity have become more and more interwoven, I have gained even greater respect for him and his legacy. In the 1970s when Jerry Falwell changed the face of American Christianity by marrying it with conservative politics, Rev. Graham refused to be a part of it. In 1979 he refused  to join Falwell's Moral Majority, saying, "I'm for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments.  Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person.  We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left.

Though ordained as a Southern Baptist and registered as a Democrat, he never let either of those distinctions rule his life.  Graham willingly pastored all presidents regardless of political party, from Truman to Obama.

In 1981 he told Parade magazine, “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form.  It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right.  The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Criticisms and Legacy

He has been criticized for aligning himself tightly with President Nixon for a time, for which he repeatedly expressed regret. He is criticized for not being there for his family because he was so often traveling for crusades. Some criticize him for not speaking out on divisive issues.

When we allow him not to be God, though, what an amazing 99 years he lived, leaving an unmatchable legacy, not just to those who knew him, but to the world. He ministered for a lifetime without serious controversy or compromise, keeping himself clean of all political factions, and keeping his focus on the simplest message of Jesus Christ. Throughout history there may not have been a more respected Christian leader than the Rev. Billy Graham. 

His children

Ruth and Billy Graham had five children, and two of those have affected my life in some way. I heard Anne (Graham Lotz)  preach twice – once at my seminary, and once I traveled to hear her speak in a nearby church. Her father used to say she was the best preacher in the family; and she was an inspiration to me, being a Southern Baptist with few women in ministry role models. In later years, though she turned back to her expected Baptist gender roles. I have blogged at least once about her, and at least once about the politics of her brother Franklin.  

See You Later

Billy Graham said while here, "My home is in heaven. I'm just traveling through this world." So now he's home. See you later, Rev. Graham. You lived well here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

B143. Eating Quick, Easy, Cheap, and Healthy!

"I don't have time to eat healthy."
"I can't afford to eat healthy."
"You are what you eat."

Yes you do, yes you can, and yes we are.

I am not a cook or a nutritionist, and I'm too frugal to spend a lot of money on everyday eating. I have learned firsthand though that what we put into our body directly affects our health, our energy level, our mood, and even our intelligence.

If I could convince you that with the same amount of money and prep time (or less!) that you use for your quick meals, even including those drive-thru pick-ups, you could eat healthy, would you give it a try? I'l try to give you just enough to inspire you, and then you can create your own ideas. There's a fun challenge to making the nutrition perfect, and mine never is, but if you ate a fast food burger and fries today, I can beat that!

For breakfast today I had a bowl of maple & brown sugar instant oatmeal, two dried plums, and my multi-vitamin and calcium supplements for the day.

Prep time: less than 3 minutes, counting 2 minutes in the microwave
Cost: approx. 50c

Calories: 235 (I eat gummy vitamins!)
Calcium: 63% of RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)
Potassium: 204 of 3500 RDA
Protein: 5 of 64 RDA
Fiber: 12 of 21 RDA
Sugar: 24 of 48 RDA (The gummies are 5 . . .)

Iron: 16% of RDA
Vit. C: 27% of RDA
Vit. A: 45% of RDA
Carbohydrates: 47 of 160 RDA
Sodium: 263 of 2300 RDA

For lunch:
Bird's Eye makes these great superfood steamer bags. Put the bag in the microwave, and voila! I had the barley & kale one today. There's also a quinoa &spinach, and maybe others. While it microwaved, I put 3/4 cup of the frozen tropical fruit in a bowl, and put a green tea bag in a glass of water. For dessert: a Dove dark chocolate! If you're on the road, did you know that Chick-Fil-A has a superfood meal, and fruit cups?
Prep time: 5 minutes in the microwave
Cost: approx. $4

Calories: 337
Calcium: 22% of RDA
Potassium: 214 of 3500 RDA
Protein: 10 of 64 RDA
Fiber: 12 of 21 RDA
Sugar: 21 of 48 RDA
Iron: 28% of RDA
Vit. C: 125 of RDA
Vit. A: 61 of RDA
Carbohydrates: 58 of 160 RDA
Sodium: 588 of 2300 RDA

For dinner:

I've become a fan of "bowls." Just choose your own ingredients, and throw them all in! Tonight I had organic spring salad with a whole small gala apple, 1 tsp sunflower seeds, 1 tsp (already sliced) almonds, kelp powder, 1/2 can sliced beets, 1 can blackeyed peas, and 1/4 cup frozen peppers & onions. No dressing needed with all theses flavors, and there are plenty of leftover ingredients for a new salad creation tomorrow! If you're on the road, Chipotle has great bowls. Just be careful how much you put in it!
Prep time: 10 minutes. I heat the peas, peppers & onions, and beets on the stove, and cut the apple and put everything else in the bowl while they heat.
Cost: approx. $3

Calories: 566
Calcium: 28% of RDA
Potassium: 1305 of 3500 RDA
Protein: 29 of 64 RDA
Fiber: 19 of 21 RDA
Sugar: 28 of 48 RDA
Iron: 44% of RDA
Vit. C: 101% of RDA
Vit. A: 34% of RDA
Carbohydrates: 93 of 160 RDA
Sodium: 1565 of 2300 RDA (Be careful not to eat too many canned foods - lots of sodiun!)

You don't have to study labels of everything you eat, and you don't have to keep up with all these numbers. I included them here to tell you my secret. I use the My Fitness Pal website, and it counts everything for me. At first it might feel a little tedious typing everything you eat, but after a while you find yourself in a kind of eating routine, repeating the same foods often. It keeps up with the nutrition stats too, including others I didn't list here, like fats, trans fats, etc. If you do nothing except trade your fast food for healthier food, you're a winner!

Four more important words for healthy eating:

: At first you will feel like you're still hungry, because your body has adapted to all that junk food. Fill up your hunger with water, or use my trick of flavoring a glass of water with a couple drops of whatever drink you want. I like peach juice or Sunny D. If your stomach growls that's a good thing. It's shrinking so it doesn't need as much to fill it up.

Variety: Even with healthy food, you need to vary what you eat from day to day. If you're watching your numbers, try to balance out today's highs and lows tomorrow. And even if something is really good for you, too much of a good thing isn't a good thing. Mix it up. And that includes giving yourself treats - anything you want. Just work it into your plan (as opposed to eating whatever pops into your mind at whatever moment), and watch the portions.

Exercise: Eating well is half the health quotient. Exercise is the other. If losing weight is a concern, look up (on My Fitness Pal or somewhere else) how many calories a person your age and size should be taking in, and then whatever you take in above that number, you need to also burn. If you eat too much, work it off.

Water: Water really is so important. Our bodies are made mostly of water, and when we don't drink enough, it slows everything down, and we feel tired and out of energy. Think of a river drying up during a drought, and the hard red clay of the riverbed cracking in the sun. Eight cups of water a day is a good goal.

How did I do today?

Calories: 1182  - Good! My personal daily intake is 1280 to lose weight and 1480 to maintain.
Calcium: 113% of RDA  - Good!
Potassium: 1825 of 3500 RDA  - Low!
Protein: 44 of 64 RDA  - A little low
Fiber: 36 of 21 RDA  - OK
Sugar: 77of 48 RDA - High - You'll learn that sugar is in a lot more than candy and cake . . .
Iron: 89% of RDA - OK
Vit. C: 253% of RDA - A lot, but maybe OK for flu season?
Vit. A: 140% of RDA - A little high
Carbohydrates: 206 of 160 RDA - A little high
Sodium: 2431 of 2300 RDA - OK - I never salt anything, but cans and prepared foods have a lot.
Water: 7 cups (We can't count the water in tea and coffee.)

So tomorrow I will try to balance this. Maybe a meat for protein, a banana for potassium . . . and I'll watch the sugar intake!

Again, it's not complicated. Ignore all the nutrition data if it stresses you. Just trade your junk food for something your body needs for strength, energy, happiness, intelligence, and health!

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Friday, February 2, 2018

B142. Real Men and Real Women

Men and Women are different.
“Equal rights” is a good thing.
All people are “real.”

Most men are physically bigger and stronger than most women. Some women are physically bigger and stronger than some men. Real men are large and small, weak and strong. Real women are large and small, weak and strong.

Most men think logistically in black and white. Most women think through a filter of feeling. Some women think mostly in logistics. Some men feel more deeply. All people are real. All women are real women, all men real men.

Because most men are physically bigger and stronger than most women, most builders and welders and mechanics are men. If a woman chooses to be a builder or a police officer and she is able to perform the job, no rule or law should prohibit her.

Most women are natural caregivers – to children, aging parents, suffering and grieving friends. Some men are. Some women are not. If a couple decides together that the husband will stay home and care for the children and the wife will go to work, no laws or social norms should prohibit them. They are both real.

Real women are cashiers, soldiers, pilots, pastors, artists, and full-time moms. Real men are plumbers, taxi drivers, chefs, poets, hair stylists, and teachers.

Men are not better or smarter than women. Women are not better or smarter than men. Men and women are different. Equality and mutual respect means they can share their strengths, living and working together, complementing and appreciating each other.

All men are not alike. All women are not alike. Gender and gender roles need no definition. If a little girl likes to play with toy cars, maybe she will grow up to do her own oil changes or to appreciate the differences in makes and models. If a little boy plays with dolls, perhaps he will become a caring father or a compassionate nurse. A man who cries watching a movie is real.  A woman who bench presses 180 pounds is real.

Being like or different from most men or being like or different from most women does not make a person better than others. Nor less real. All people are real. Men and women are different. Men and men are different. Women and women are different. We are all uniquely created. We are all uniquely of value. And when everyone is valued, the real world we all share is good.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

B141. Checklist Christianity

(Don't skip the light print. That's where all the fun is . . .)

When I was a child Christian teachings were a little more subjective. Something about God’s grace, not our works. Lots of talk about forgiveness, and loving our enemies, and allowing God to be the judge of others. Knowing the difference between God and Caesar . . .

Now though, hooray, in our new age of enlightenment, we can just use a fundamentalist checklist – a list we can control on our own without having to depend on what God might or might not be doing. Just print it out, and check it off.

_____1. Protest strongly against gay people. Repost anything against them that comes across your social media feeds, even if it’s deceptive or a lie. Spread to all your friends that gay people are dangerous, sick, perverted, and live far away . . . and don’t forget to handpick those 6-7 passages in the Bible to justify that you are speaking for God. Even if you have some doubts and questions. Ignore the questions, and just keep the memes circulating!

_____2. Protest loudly against abortion, especially accusing “pro-choice” people of being godless murderers. Bumper stickers are a nice touch. Continue to focus on the so-called “partial-birth” abortions as if they are a norm. This will help distract people from ever realizing that hardly anyone is “pro-abortion,” and from having the meaningful discussion of whether the government should be in the position of making such decisions.

_____3. Vote Republican, no matter what the office or who is running. Do not get distracted by morality. What matters is politics. Most importantly, call everyone who doesn’t vote all-Republican a “liberal,” as if the word is a great insult. People will often follow a name-caller’s lead without questioning what the word really means, just like the Vietnam soldiers were trained to call the Vietnamese “gooks.” Names make it so much easier to disregard people as children of God. Didn’t Jesus say “No one comes to the Father but by the Republican Party,” and didn’t he eat with Republicans and Sinners?

_____4. Use your Bible as if it were the fourth Person of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son . . . God the Book. Carefully pick out verses to justify numbers 1-3. Don’t actually read the Bible though or encourage others to read it, or they might be confused by those other passages that seem to say just the opposite. Be careful to avoid, or at least just brush over, all the words of Jesus about loving even those people we were calling names in number 3.

1-2-3-4! Done!

If this doesn’t sound right to you, and I admit, it sounds a little off to me too, like politics and religion have gotten all tangled together, then there’s the old alternative. Maybe we should go into our prayer closets alone, pray for God’s discernment in these confusing times, read all the way through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and 1 Corinthians 13, and try that radical love thing Jesus was always talking about.

But then we might have to acknowledge that those other people get some things right too.  Gosh, I don’t know. A checklist is so much easier!

Disclaimer: This is not an anti-Republican post. It is an anti Republican-equals-God post. And yes, Republicans are the ones with this issue.  Definitely not all Republicans. Definitely not all Christians. Feel free to ignore it and move on if it doesn't apply. The blogger is neither Republican nor Democrat. The post is satire.

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